Honestly there are a lot of things not to say to another human. I probably can’t list them all. Things like “oooh that looks like you have an alien living inside you” to people who show you their pregnancy ultrasounds (yes I have said that) comparing babies to parasites is also a no-no…
I am not always the most socially competent person, especially before coffee or when I am hungry. However I not going to deal with small talk here, I am talking about things people (often well meaning people) say to others in an attempt to help.
I am going to start with the one that has been annoying me for a considerable amount of time (at least since 2011 when I wrote my first blog post about it), “cheer up it could be worse” or “well, its all relative isn’t it, some people are worse off…”
This information, while true, is rarely helpful. If I break my leg, does it hurt less because someone else breaks both of theirs? I don’t think it does, I think that each case has its own inherent properties. If I am sad, the fact that someone else is sadder doesn’t make me happier.
People’s feelings about things are their feelings. Telling someone that things could be worse actually invalidates their pain. What you are really doing is telling them that they have no right to feel pain/sadness/etc. Telling someone that they should feel better about something bad because some people have it worse is insulting and potentially damaging.
Damaging because when the person in question can’t just cheer up, they begin to feel that there is something wrong with them. When people have been told they have no right to their feelings it adds an extra dimension of guilt and pain on top of an already bad situation.
It is interesting that when people use this sort of logic, they are normally trying to make you feel better. You never hear some one who is happy about having passed an exam being told, “well it’s all relative…someone just won the Nobel peace prize”!
Don’t get me wrong, there is still room in life for perspective. I do not think that every case of misfortune is equal, it is evident that loosing a limb is worse than loosing a sock I am not trying to belittle anything that has happened to other people I am just saying that the scale of someone else’s bad luck doesn’t change that of yours