My goal in life is to stamp out relentless positivity.

Ok- maybe it’s not exactly my goal…but on my list of pet peeves, somewhere after book over description, but before store clerks asking me if I found everything I was looking for, is people who can’t help but say: “Look on the bright side.”

Sometimes, I don’t care about the bright side…

Therefore I am on a quest to quash all those happy face people…and in that train of thought, I have come up with a new theory…

Do relentlessly positive people lack empathy?

I have been having a rough few weeks. If someone asks about my Dad, I give the short version about how his body is just beaten down from the cancer treatments. How his mind is beat down from pandemic and the political climate. I say that he is really depressed. My Mother is trying to take care of him. I’m trying to support both of them emotionally…

But do you know what relentlessly positive people say?

Well, he’s alive.

or

You still have both your parents.

or

He didn’t die from COVID.

or

He will totally get better because he’s a fighter.

Do you think any of these statements make me feel better?

Or are these worthless platitudes that the person speaking thinks is a panacea to all the problems in the world?

Does it lack empathy if you tell someone what is troubling you and they wash it away with a glib phrase and a way too upturned smile?

What is more likely to make me feel better: someone telling me that the sun will come out tomorrow, or someone telling me that they are there for me and that the situation sucks?

Sometimes, the sun won’t come out tomorrow. Sometimes we have to face that life sucks. If you want to be a good friend, is it fair to tell someone that happiness is just around the corner?

If you are not listening to your friend, if you are not saying the sort of language that they need, if you are not tailoring your answers to the situation at hand and treating your friend as the individual that they are…do you lack empathy?

If you tell me “Chin up” are you completely disregarding my emotions, my feelings, my experience?

Is it right to tell someone not to be sad, or angry, or frightened or whatever? Are you essentially saying that my feelings are wrong? That my feelings don’t matter? That what I’m experiencing isn’t valid?

How does my theory hold up:

Do relentlessly positive people lack empathy?

135 thoughts on “Positivity- 1 Empathy-0

  1. I think most people just don’t know WHAT to say. They are, most of the time, actually trying to make you feel better. Doesn’t work, I know. I understand where you’re coming from, though. I would much rather have someone say the situation sucks, than try to look on the bright side.

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  2. My husband can sometimes try to cheer me up with these kinds of statements but it doesn’t work. I love his positive attitude but it doesn’t always fit the situation or the person. I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy. I think he truly is trying to cheer people up. But now that I say that, I wonder if it is because he can’t walk in someone else’s shoes. Interesting to think about.

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  3. I’ve been encountering the same in my world – and I think you might be on to something. When I say “I’m sad” or “That’s discouraging” I’m not asking that the problem be fixed, or that I need to approach the issue so that I feel positive. That just diminishes my feelings, denies that they are valid. And I end up feeling alone and unsupported by the people that I “should” be able to count on. One individual in particular has often struck me as being unable to show empathy.

    Strength to you as you navigate your dad’s health challenges.

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  4. So sorry for what you are going through. I lost my dad about twenty years ago. One of the most difficult experiences in my life. And as I see in your writing, how the rest of our family members deal with things can make things that much harder.
    Your post is great. As Jorjagrael stated I think sometimes people just don’t know what to say. But yeah, telling someone “At least you have both your parents” is in no way helpful. But I think when someone tries to “wash away” what you are saying they aren’t wanting to deal with the raw emotion of the situation and it can come across as a sort of head game.
    Long distance hugs to you. What you are experiencing is so tough,

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    1. Thank you so much! I think dealing with my mom and sister on top of this is the hardest part. We all look at the situation differently and trying to remember that they see things differently than me is the hardest part

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  5. It has to be difficult not to look at people and just tell them to keep their platitudes to themselves. I agree with the trend in responses though. For the majority of those with happy faces and snappy answers it’s likely that’s how they have been taught to deal with others bad news, grief, loss, etc. There lived experience also plays a part in what they say and do so there’s truth to a lack of empathy on the part of some. On the flip side, those who are experiencing all the emotions you describe have also been taught to simply say thank you to whatever words come at them. It’s not polite to tell others how sad you are, how hard things are, how you struggle because that makes for
    uncomfortable moments. It takes guts to speak out and ask for others to really listen without sugar coating or trying to fix the issue. We suck at emotions and acknowledging them in general.
    I hope that being here and giving a voice to your feelings with all of us will help to alleviate some of the hurt. We are listening and I think we all acknowledge that you have a hard road ahead.

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    1. Thank you for listening!! No one wants to deal with negative emotions, yet we all experience them, and deal with those experiencing them. We all need to get actively better at it. I just want people to acknowledge that I feel,crappy emotionally now. And ask if there’s anything they can do to help. And to remember that right now, even though I may be smiling, or getting on with life or doing things, it doesn’t mean I’m happy and carefree. It just means I’m doing what I need to get by. Does that make sense?

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  6. Here is a work situation that somewhat relates to your post. My supervisor will often be relentlessly positive when someone complains about a coworker. So after a while people will stop complaining but the situation with the coworker gets more and more problematic. Coworker Mary has been problematic since day 1. Now the situation with Mary has really gotten out of control and needs to be addressed immediately. Supervisor and others that should be dealing with Mary are away at fluffy professional meeting. I’m sure supervisor thinks everyone who is contacting her about Mary thinks we are ruining the vibe of her fluffy professional meeting. I just want to yell at her in my best Jack Nicholson voice “You can’t handle the truth”—I won’t of course.

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    1. Exactly! They think you’re just being negative, when in reality, they might be making the situation worse. Sometimes it’s not being negative…sometimes it’s just the truth

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  7. LA, I agree with previous commentators, that often people are trying to comfort us, but they just don’t know what to say.
    We all experience a variety of human emotions, and life has its difficult parts.
    Please know that you have a great deal of support from your readers, and the many other people in your life who care about you. 🤗🌷

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  8. It just means no one knows how to offer condolences in a way that is needed per person. Grief is awkward all around. As I said before, my Dad and I didn’t connect for years. Him being a huge reason I am messed up. But we did connect 6 months before he passed. When he passed I had conflicting emotions. When people offered condolences, I got angry. For me, it was a burden finally lifted. I miss my Dad immensely, and I did weep the last time I saw him but I finally felt free of a constant every day dark cloud. It was really hard for co-workers to understand my process. It is what it is. Do people lack empathy ? Naw, they just think they are offering a bit of light in a perceived dark place. Cut people slack LA.

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    1. All you have to say is I’m sorry. And ask what they can do for me. Saying he’s not dead yet, or that he’s going to get better makes me feel about a billion times worse.

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      1. Then I guess I’d say don’t ask the question. I don’t talk about this as a rule in my personal life. I only bring it up on blogs when the topic I’ve scheduled to write about sort of coincides with it. So i guess I’d rather people didn’t ask the question. But telling me that my father is going to get better soon is sort of cruel to me, and doesn’t make me feel better. The only person who feels better is the person who made the statement

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      2. I completely understand. Some people believe in miracles and aren’t rooted in reality but I really believe people mean well. Could be worse, could have a close tell you they would gladly do a mercy killing for you (I had a deeply religious friend tell me this when my Mom was in hospice) that is far worse than someone offering hope.

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  9. I do think most people don’t know what to say to people going through a difficult time. And oftentimes people really don’t want to listen. They want to be polite but they don’t know how to listen. Sometimes we want comfort or sympathy. Other times we just want to be left alone. There’s no right or wrong way.to feel crummy.
    What I’ve learned is not to assume you know the right response when others are hurting.. But people can ask. Rather than tell. Can I help in any way? How are you feeling? What can I do? And let them tell you. Or just listen.
    My sister has gotten really good at this. I’ve always been a nurturer. And I’m sick of nurturing others to make sure I’m ok. The fact is I’m not ok. And it makes people uncomfortable when you aren’t ok. That’s when they say really stupid things. “ At least you’re still alive! “ yeah, people have said that. 😳
    For the last week I’ve been throwing up non stop and have felt miserable. My family calls to check on me and sees if I need anything. Sometimes I do. Mostly I don’t complain. This week being ill got to me. I was fed up. It’s nobody’s fault. But I really didn’t want to hear anyone else’s baloney. I was sick of being sick.

    You are probably sick of it all. And people say the most insensitive things when they try to make you feel better. I’m sorry about that. It sucks. But we are all pretty useless in tough situations. And honestly everyone else is fed up when life doesn’t get better. We are fickle creatures.

    And While some people lack empathy, I think most people just want things to get better immediately. Therefore their empathy has limits. You dad isnt immediately better. I still have cancer. Most people can’t deal with anything that is prolonged. I have a friend who actually had the nerve to call to check on me and then snap when I answered her questions saying well, sorry, this is just a side affect of my cancer treatments.. Her response was, “ Are you ever going to not mention you have cancer? Sheesh?” I was taken aback and said, “ not if you ask me about my health. But, sure If you ask me about a novel, a fashion trend or my grandchildren, sure. I realized she couldn’t handle that I’m not immediately cured. She wanted me to be all better immediately. Because she was uncomfortable. And that’s not how it always works.
    You feel crummy now. You are entitled to. But I think we need to realize that most people can’t handle any one else who is suffering for any length of time. So yeah, I guess we live in a pretty self centered society.
    I’m really sorry people are insensitive to your needs now. Sometimes that really stinks.

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      1. Thank you! I know you are! Screaming is good. Today is an excellent screaming day! It’s like we are never supposed to let our guard down. Is that because we are women? Or Moms? Or Daughters? I think I am going to start throwing things too. Maybe I should paint giant four letter words down by the mail box or the elevator. Hehehe that might be fun. How about we try it? 🤣

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  10. I’ve worked in male dominated machine shops these past 38 years consequently I’ve met very (very) FEW relentlessly positive men (perhaps it’s a girly thing?) And that’s probably the reason I’m a realist at heart, there’s no bs being around guys of all ages 8 hours a day, they’ll moan and gripe about everything from their wives, to politics religion you name it (also hilarious at times), that dichotomy of negativity alongside amusing banter language (often bad) and jokes can be refreshing also wearing……….the other day the Storeman’s complaining about his wife, and rather exasperated I asked him “why an earth do you stay married then?” Quick as a flash he answered “free sex that’s why!”……honest and kinda funny. Relentless positivity can appear a little forced, like the guy I pass in Oxford selling Christian literature when he shouts “Jesus loves you!” Really?

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  11. Your opening line made me laugh out loud. That is an admirable goal.

    Some people just don’t know what to say, so they say nonsense. What they need to do is shut the hell up.
    I’m sorry that people have said those things to you. Sit in your sadness and pain and allow it to wash over you. Why must we look for the silver lining? Sometimes, it’s good to sit in the dark too.
    Xoxo

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      1. Oh it positivity can totally be an escape. If fact, It’s an easy escape actually. Way easier than trying to be there for someone who may need your support. You know, LA I love your honesty about feeling crappy. When I got sick the best advice I was given was to not be a marter. Let it out. I have a friend who’s is a survivor. She told me when you feel like it pull your cancer card. I said what’s that?. She said it’s your F off card. So I suggest you pull your F off card when you need it. Trust me. You’ll feel better. Don’t talk to or listen to anyone who stays stupid things to you. Pull your F off card. In the midst of my worst days it’s makes me feel better to tell everyone to F off!

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      2. Yep! There is nothing better than a good old F off. That just might be the last thing I ever say … pretty funny. “ I can just hear my kids… “And what did your Mom say?” She told everyone to just F off and leave her the F alone! “ Hahaha😂

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    1. I don’t think they lack empathy. Like your most intelligent readers, many of whom are in this comment thread, I agree that sometimes people just don’t know what to say.

      I also agree with those who have been through it before or, like you and me, are going through it now. Be who you are in just whatever mood or state of mind you happen to be in at that particular moment when someone asks you how you are.

      Personally I get tired of people asking me if there’s anything they can do to help me. Maybe that’s just my personality but the one time I asked my selfish sister to do something to help me I had the feeling that she was lying to me when she told me she had done it. That is probably just the nature of the current state of our relationship which I don’t really expect to ever improve.

      Anyway, besides that, most of my friends know that I would never be shy or reticent about asking for their help as that is my track record with a good many of them even if they didn’t know I was struggling before I asked for their help. I kind of like the way my kids deal with me right now. They just keep telling me to take care of myself!

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      1. I never ask for help, which is my own thing. But I really think saying nothing is better than saying something that can be conceived as insensitive. Comments like those make me feel worse

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  12. I’m all for helping people to find some good in the negative, but there are times where doing that is appropriate and times when it is not. When someone is stuck in a place where the only thing they see is the negative, they sometimes need the reminder to take the time to also see the good in life or they end up stuck wallowing in all that is ugly in life. BUT, that isn’t when someone is dealing with hugely difficult or painful situations in life like you are. You need to have your pain and struggles acknowledged, not dismissed. You need the shoulder to cry on or to just lean on when you don’t have the strength. Are there ways of looking at it that you can see some good? Sure, but that isn’t what you need right now.

    I had a friend lose her husband several years ago and I was astounded at the number of people that said some truly awful things about her grief that they believed were positive or well meaning, but were actually horribly hurtful. To this day, she is ready rip out someone’s throat if they say some of those trite phrases.

    Sending hugs. May the Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy, bright side people get fleas so you can tell them “At least it isn’t smallpox.”

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      1. Just because one person finds comfort in certain things doesn’t mean that others find that same comfort. It is incredibly insensitive to just assume that their needs would be the same as yours in times like that. It is always so much better to just ask what they need.

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      2. Universally, if someone says they’re having a bad moment, no one should ever say to look on the bright side. Ever. What someone, anyone, needs is not to be dismissed.

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  13. I am one to look for the positive light and express it. With my daughter this past year going through depression, I’ve learned that when she’s upset and down, she doesn’t need any of my “but look at this” type of comments. I’ve learned to be a better listener through her suffering. I’m sorry for what you are going through. In most cases, I think people are uncomfortable with death, sadness and emotions and are trying to fill up the space with anything else.

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  14. In the defense of the other side…. I understand where you are coming from. I have a friend whose father is ill right now. It’s hard for us too, day to day, what do we say or do. I have NO IDEA. And if we just stop talking, waiting to hear news — then we are considered a friend who doesn’t care, abandoned ship when things got tough. I think for friends – it can be a no win situation. Also, every day is different — one day we can feel happy, the next sad. I think this is part of your father’s illness, but I have also noticed that with COVID, so many people are on edge lately for almost anything. Sending a hug!! I can do that since it is virtual, no COVID restrictions for virtual hugs! Hang in there! If someone is talking, at least they are trying and they care — EVEN if they say STUPID things. ❤

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  15. I do think relentlessly happy people lack empathy. When I hear someone telling me about a hard time or problem I try to not brush them off and not make it about me. For me, if I’m going through a hard time a simple, “I’m sorry you are going through this” goes along way. It validates I have a right to be so upset and I don’t have to be all cheery and sunshiny. Tell
    Me to look on the bright side shows me they have no comprehension of me or my situation.

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    1. Exactly!! Telling me to look on the bright side, or that things could be worse, or people have it much worse off than me is not helping me with what I’m feeling…what you do is the right thing…tell them you’re sorry, ask how you can help…don’t negate what they’re feeling

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  16. Hmmm. I don’t know. I think it depends on the exact context. I do know, however, that people that are only positive, are actually not positive, but, rather using “positivity” as a way to escape their own emotions. In this context I am referring to the statement above, where someone said, at least he is alive. That is not empathy, that is actually, well, I don’t know what to call it, but it is certainly not empathy. Those that can empathize, know how hard it is to feel angry, sad, frustrated, etc., and will sit with you in that sadness, for instance, not ask you to deny your sadness, if that makes sense.

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  17. I think this is called toxic positivity. I do think those people lack empathy, not only for you, but also for themselves. Usually, those people are not very in tune with their own emotions, so how they can they empathize with anyone else’s?

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  18. I think some people don’t know what to say and some people don’t have empathy. On another note , I’m at the point where I don’t even want to talk about what we’re going through. I have a sweet (casual, not BFF) friend that texts me daily asking how things are going . I don’t really want to say , not good! But I feel like I’m expected to give an upbeat , positive reply . I’m so sorry your dad and you are suffering, LA . Life just sucks sometimes. I think some people vigorously reject that idea out of fear that bad things will happen to them . 💕 @Lesley , I’m so sorry for the throwing up . That’s the worst .😩

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  19. I think as kids many of us were taught that sadness, anger, fear, depression were wrong emotions to sit with. I’d hear “what’s wrong?” “Go out and play, don’t sit in your room feeling glum.” We think these emotions are unacceptable or at the very least uncomfortable for people to be around. So culturally we not taught to sit with these feelings or allow others to just feel what they’re feeling. We’re not taught empathy. My sister lost her husband recently and I learned after several missteps to not try and shift her mood, I sit and hold her hand, put my arms around her, cry, moan, but very few words. As Maya says, when we know better, we do better. Quietly sitting with you in this pain and suffering, C

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  20. I am a positive person BUT it can be taken too far, just like the examples you gave!
    Life truly does suck sometimes and its OK to say that!
    My dear sister in law is going through a divorce right now and there are days we tslk about how badly life sucks and the crappy deal she got! But just like being over positive you can be over negative too. I also need to encourage her that her life isn’t over that she will make it through this! Most of the time though just having a friend who will listen to you and sit with you in silence not trying to fill up the silence with empty words is one of the best things.
    Sorry about how some people can be so insensitive to your aching heart when they give empty platitudes. But like others said, I think its a lot because they don’t know what to say and being real can be uncomfortable.

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      1. You are absolutely right! But society is uncomfortable wifh silence as a whole it seems. We have the idea that saying anything is better than saying nothing or just saying I am sorry or I wish I knew what to say. We don’t realize how those words can be so touching and yes, we do need to figure it out! ❤

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  21. Okay, now that I have that stupid song stuck in my head…I’ll try and get through this. “This too shall pass” is a saying that someone told me a very long time ago. It works whether you’re happy or not so happy…or fill in the blank about what you’re going through or feeling. It might be worth looking it up and discussing. Hey, maybe I’ll write about it on my blog. I dunno. The point is, whether any of us like it or not, whatever we’re experiencing…it’s temporary in that it will eventually pass. It may take years. It may only pass when we, ourselves, pass, but nothing remains forever.

    Positivity and empathy should not be exclusive from one another and I don’t think it is. I blame most of the way we respond to each other in a socially acceptable way on the social constructs someone came up with way before our time and that we’ve been taught/trained to adhere to, especially in emotionally sensitive moments.

    With that said, there are people who lurv to go around with a cloud over them. They get attention that way and I guess that works for them in their lives. They are just negative people. For them, the sun never does come out…at least not for long before they find something else to be unhappy about. I think that’s why so many people automatically respond to everyone who’s experiencing a difficult moment with pat phrases about things getting better or feeling better or whatever the hell.

    Here’s the deal…they’ve done studies about this too…sorry I can’t cite for you, but I’m sure you could look them up if you’re so inclined…studies found that people who actually spin their situation to suggest they are doing better than they actually are, those with more positivity and optimism…are, indeed, happier people overall. Happier people tend to attract better opportunities, btw. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling mindset. It’s kind of like how more physically people tend to get more opportunities. People, in general, want to be around those who seem to be successful and happy and attractive. Call it evolution, but most people want to be around people who make them feel good or feel better about themselves and their situations. It’s kind of like do unto others, right? Is it wrong of me to say that’s probably why we also have so many damned phony’s around?

    Everyone goes through pain and sorrow. That sounds so obvious and trite. Life effing sucks at times, probably more than I even want to admit. As my therapist used to tell me, “Everyone gets their fair share of shit. But it’s manure that promotes growth.” Sometimes I hated my therapist…but I also adore him. At one point in our sessions, he came to the conclusion that in my life, I’ve gotten more shit than most. Life is anything but fair. Also, I’m just saying, shame on people for promoting the myth that life should be fair, especially to children. Explore it, but don’t just drop that into a kid’s head so they’re set up to be devastated when they find out it isn’t true! Never has been and never will be.

    On the other hand, we do need to promote optimism, the drive and desire to move through the shit to get through to better times ahead. So…no easy answers.

    Of course, I’ve seen others who have it way worse off than me. WAY WORSE! (Knock on wood, make crossing motions, salt over the shoulder, etc.)

    As you once pointed out to me, LA, it’s not a contest. You love yourself and take care of yourself. You’re a human being. You’re not required to feel or do or be anything other than how you feel and are. You owe no one any explanation either, especially when people know you’re going through a difficult time. It doesn’t give you the right to be rude or hostile to others, but it does give you the right to get away from annoying people who just don’t get what you’re going through. Sadness and grief are expected during situationally difficult times. When you find, though, that after a period of time (it’s different for everyone) and you’re stuck and you are just depressed and there is no sun anywhere to be found…and you want to stop being depressed…or it’s impacting those you love and care about over a long period of time…then it’s time to seek an empathetic therapist and/or medication (only you and your doctor can figure out what, if anything, is right for you) and that’s just another way of coping and working your way through a really s(@tty time in your life.

    If it helps, I find that sometimes people just don’t get it. I feel alone when that happens. I feel like people are sometimes way too insensitive. Some are just a-holes and “b’s.” However, I have no idea what they’re going through in their own lives anymore than they understand what I’m going through. I remember when friends of mine had gone out to Austin for the Texas Book Festival the year my Mom died. They went the weekend Mom died. Needless to say, I wasn’t with them. About six weeks later, we were together (book club) and they were reminiscing about their trip and they included me in their memories…as if I had been there. I was asked, “Oh, you remember when we had drinks at that club? What was the name?” I reminded them I was not with them. I got a funny look. “You weren’t? Why weren’t you with us again?” I said, “I was with my mother…as she lay dying in bed…that’s why.” “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Huh, I wonder why I thought you were with us?” They didn’t miss a beat. They went right on remembering their fun memories. No apologies for forgetting that my mother had just died. No one cared. I could have screamed! It hurt. Really, really hurt. At that moment, I didn’t feel like I could call any of them friends, but eventually, I realized they didn’t mean any harm. They were just clueless and the whole situation was incredibly awkward. They sure as hell were tone-deaf during my time of mourning. But it was my time of mourning, not theirs. I probably shouldn’t have even been there, but I was trying to normalize my life. Silly me. Five years later and I remember this (vividly) but I don’t hold any animosity toward any of them. We’re all human. We’re all idiots sometimes. Especially me.

    I wish I could help you out in this moment of pain, LA. I wish we all had the right words, that I had the right words, so that you know you are loved and supported…I’ve tried to answer some of your questions…but I know that falls short of just understanding and listening and being there…sometimes just in silence. I know there’s nothing that’s going to fix this, except maybe time. Maybe. You do what you have to do. You be what you have to be. You think what you need to think. You say what you need to say. I’ll just end this by sending hugs your way, my friend! I’m so sorry there’s nothing more I can do. Mona

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    1. Yes, Wayward, a positive attitude does heal, but nobody can be positive all the time. I spent my life hearing “This too shall pass” from my mother. I quoted it to my students and to my children. I loved that quote. I have always been a positive person. . But here’s the deal. While I am positive most of the time, or try to be, now that I’m fighting reoccurring cancer for the second time I have to allow myself days to feel crummy. And I can’t feel guilty for being frustrated or sick, or ticked off that life is challenging or unfair.. And we have to allow people we care about to grieve, to hurt, to cry or to scream or feel however the heck they need to feel. That’s respecting their feelings.
      And quess what? I had to be over 70 to realize that nope… it doesn’t always pass. That quote is not always right! That’s just life . Sometimes it doesn’t pass… And that really sucks.

      So it’s ok every now and then for people to give in to occasionally feeling blue. While I have no patience for people who gripe about everything all the time, I don’t want to tell everyone to just put on a happy face. A dear friend of mine is grieving the death of her husband. It doesn’t help her to say how lucky she was to have had him for half a century when she’s crying in an empty bed at night any more than it makes me feel better that I’ve lived to 72 if I’m vomiting day in and day out from chemotherapy treatment . People have to learn to get out of their bubble and just say.” Look, I care about you. I’m so sorry you are dealing with all this. But don’t tell them to keep smiling if they don’t feel like it and are having a tough day.

      I actually can’t believe I let my guard down and wrote all this. I spend day in and day out trying to stay positive but today I’d had enough. F off cancer, F off everything and everyone. I need to be ticked Royally ticked off Oh… and F off this too shall pass! Ohhhhhh that felt good to say…. Sigh. I feel way better now! 😉😻

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      1. LK,
        I’m glad you opened up. I wonder if that particular phrase triggered something within you? Of course you have the right to have awful days. weeks, years, even. And you don’t need me to tell you that…Everyone’s entitled to that. I know I didn’t say that people should stay positive or that positivity heals or anything like that. I’ve re-read my response several times to LA. Where do I say anything about “smiling?” I’m confused why you think I said or in some way meant that. And where do you get that I think you or anyone else should feel guilty about anything? Holy cow! I apologize if I didn’t make myself clear on one or more of my points because it appears I didn’t. My point was to suggest people often are asinine in their responses to someone in pain or going through a difficult time for a number of reasons. I didn’t say that by doing so, it made it right. Just the opposite, actually. By the way, I’m the last person to tell anyone to keep smiling if they don’t feel like it. Clearly, you don’t know me at all. I wonder if you even read my full response. As to what people should learn? What you suggest sounds nice…but in my experience, I’ve found that it isn’t up to me to tell people what they should and should not learn. Not that I haven’t made a suggestion or two…mostly ignored. If that works for you, though, more power to you. Whether you did or didn’t read my full response to LA is really beside the point. It sounds like you’re going through an incredibly tough time yourself right now. Guess what? Me too. Certainly, LA is as well! I’m just glad you were able to say your piece. That’s so important. Mona

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      2. Oh Mona, don’t take it personally. I had a particularly bad chemo reaction yesterday and lost it. It was not personal. It was more my reaction of the quote. Which for decades I loved. Today it hit me wrong. I certainly can’t blame an old Biblical quote by King Solomon on you. Lol

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    2. What you wrote is perfect for me today, because I see how much you care, and I know you understand what I’m going through. And I know people don’t mean any harm, and they’re often clueless, but I guess I don’t like when someone brings up the question to me, I answer, and then they brush away my answer, like my answer doesn’t mean anything. If they’re not prepared to deal with what I might say, they shouldn’t ask. Does that make sense?

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      1. LA, that absolutely makes sense. Another therapist (I’ve had so many in my life) once told me that when I ask someone how they are, I really mean it. (Well, yeah, duh!) She explained that most people don’t really care how you are. They don’t really want to know. She told me that most people just ask that in a rote way…the old socially acceptable pleasantry that means nothing. They say it because it’s expected…and they expect you to say “fine,” back or something else inane and rote. So then everyone can move on…to what, I haven’t a clue, but that’s the way it was explained to me. She said that when you don’t give the expected response back, it throws people for a loop and then awkwardness ensues because they weren’t taught how to deal with a real answer. She’s probably right, but that’s so lazy and so much BS. I agree with you that when someone asks, even as just a pleasantry, dismissing your answer when they don’t like what they hear (which feels like they’re dismissing you) can really hurt and certainly doesn’t help. As you said, sometimes just an acknowledgement that they have some sense of understanding that you’re in pain, from one human to another, would be nice.

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  22. I can see how that sort of thing would be exactly what you don’t want to hear right now. I’m not sure it is a lack of empathy, but maybe. I can’t stand when people presume to tell me how I should feel about anything. Or they assume I feel a particular way and run with it. They should just be accepting and listen. Not saying anything would be better.

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  23. 100% with you on this one. Far better to listen to them, and just let them know that if they want to shout, scream, talk or just be left alone you understand and you are there for them. Nothing worse than being told ‘smile things will get better’

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  24. I get it. Some people just don’t know what to say so they say the wrong thing. Are they unsympathetic? Maybe caught off guard. I tell people I dont know what to say. The situation you’re in sucks or I’m sorry you’re going through this. Let me know if I can help. I think some people are positive because they dont know the person’s emotional state. Will they cry…. there’s so many different levels to this.

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    1. Very true. But in my case, in my personal life, I don’t talk about it. But if someone asks, I tell them. I guess my thing is, don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer.

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  25. I was a reporter, so I learned how to listen to people’s stories without showing too much emotion. I cannot believe the things people tell me upon just meeting me. A woman told me on Saturday it’s because I seem non-threatening. I try not to be shocked by anything people tell me because seriously, truth is stranger than fiction. That being said, I am a “fixer” by nature, so I often can’t help but give advice to those close to me. I think people who give positive feedback actually have a ton of empathy. They don’t want you to suffer, so they’re trying to pull you out of your sadness. It’s just hard to see this when things aren’t going well.

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      1. Told my sister this very thing on Tuesday. she was just diagnosed with breast cancer this week. Since I have not personally had to deal with that one, no way in hell was I going to spout off any trite platitude. I am hard wired toward positive 90% of the time. I think it’s a combination of factors (general positive outlook)..genetic, and learned response. If you lived locally, and I was in your circle of trusted confidants, and I knew what you shared with us today, I would call you, just to check in, tell you that, and then let the conversation go where ever it went. Maybe you would need to vent, and maybe you are all talked out. My desire would be just to come along side and let you knew I cared. Period. Sending love from the heartland. DM

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  26. Positive thinking can be useful, but only when it comes from within. When someone tries to impose it from the outside, it certainly does give off the whiff of empathy lack. My good friend was surprised when her therapist said “wow, you really do have a lot of s**t to deal with” but also found it a huge relief to hear it as she felt seen and validated for struggling with the weight of her load.

    In the scenario you mention, saying sorry is really the way forward. Unless you are in a position to offer some practical help and are making a genuine offer.

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  27. Positivity in and of itself is not all bad when it’s given with genuine caring. Superficial platitudes are what people say when they don’t know what to say. Most people don’t know how to just sit with someone and support them during these times because we’re always encouraged to *fix* it and keep going. Some things cannot be fixed. Empathy and sympathy is an art form. Give yourself some grace for the days that are less than positive. No one can be positive all the time. If they come off that way, they are lying to themselves. When I feel distraught I always remember a quote from the movie, Elizabethown: You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery: enjoy it, embrace it, discard it… and proceed. But, sometimes I take more than five minutes.

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  28. Although I might consider myself as an occational empath and an optimistist by nature, sometimes I struggle with choosing words to say to people going through a difficult time. All I wanna get across to them is “hey, I’m here with you”, and from my experience in the past (lost my dad few years ago, lost my fav job and broke up with my boyfriend at the same time, totally hit the bottom) I truly believe that things will get better if you work hard on it. I mean, yeah, you can feel bad right now, and it’s normal as we’re human beings. But you’ll get back on your feet down the road. I know it sounds cliche (and I do sometimes sound like a hypocrite). Lately, I started saying things like, “I’m so sorry”, “yeah, it sucks”, and “Can I do something for you?”, etc.

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  29. I wouldn’t say they lack empathy…they just feel like they would be encouraging negativity and depression if they agree with you. I know exactly what you mean, my Dad died early this year and the few times I’ve actually talked about how I feel… people automatically say things like “It’s okay”, “Where there is life, there is hope”, “Trust in God”, “Pray” etc. Like why can’t they understand that sometimes the person just wants to break down and cuss at the world. So now, I just say “I’m fine” whenever people ask about my emotional and mental well-being because I already know they would initiate false positivity. It’s not them, it’s just a social language that’s familiar and comfortable. Most people feel awkward when someone breaks down and having nothing else to say, they just reply automatically because that’s what society has programmed in them 🤷

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      1. We can’t change it all at once buh one person at a time starting from yourself…charity does begin at home 🤷.
        Now I just hug people when they tell me there problems and tell them that “life’s a bitch but you are bitchier and I love you” 🤷

        Liked by 1 person

  30. I’m glad you shared how these glib phrases make you feel. It should make even the most positive of people pause in the future when someone tells them something sad or hard. It is important to listen and respond to what someone is feeling more than to try to pump them up–except by letting them know that you are sorry these things are happening and that you will be there for them. I try to be that person and your post is a good reminder to me.

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    1. Thank you. I realize that these are tough situations to navigate, but telling someone amidst crisis that it’s going to get better is almost cruel, because it’s probably getting worse before getting better

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  31. I’ve also heard it called “toxic positivity,” and it drives me nuts!! I mean…don’t invalidate my feelings! They’re MY feelings! If life is dealing me a bad hand, don’t try to make me feel good about it if there’s absolutely nothing positive about it. Just commiserate with me and be supportive in a way that I need it.

    I remember reading an experience of a woman who lost her husband and she was devastated and sad. She’d lost the love of her life and she was expressing how difficult it was. I couldn’t believe it when someone said she could have more time to engage in hobbies, etc. REALLY?!! 😤 Others were saying other similar things she could do to take advantage of the extra time she’d have now. I said I was so sorry she was having to endure such a painful loss. I thought about my own marriage to a wonderful man and how devastating it would be if I lost him. I could relate so I sympathized with her intense pain. Sometimes, maybe it’s best to just say you’re sorry?? I would personally prefer that over a Pollyanna response.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Omg I can’t believe people said those things to someone who lost their spouse! I mean, I can believe it because people don’t think…but really!!saying nothing is better than saying something like that

      Liked by 1 person

  32. I prefer people to be honest and not “feel sorry,” if they don’t actually feel that way. But more than that, I don’t know if feeling “sorry” helps. Throughout life, the ones who don’t wallow in their difficulties, for all people have them, are the happiest.

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