5 Things Not to Say to Someone Who is Grieving!

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Grief and loss are universal emotions. Just about everyone is touched by them at some point in their life. If you have the privilege of living into adulthood and old age then you will likely experience loss in many shapes and forms. There is the loss that comes from the death of a loved one or a cherished pet. There is the grief that can be felt on a national scale suffered from events like 9/11 and theater shootings in Colorado.

Grief and loss stem from other avenues as well. These include divorce, job changes, moving, medical issues, infertility, natural disasters and much more. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes and impacts each person uniquely. Just because someone appears to grieve differently doesn’t mean they are right or wrong. This is imperative to remember. Grief deserves respect; in both ourselves and others.

For those of you who have been through major losses, you have most likely experienced how often people say inappropriate things that can really disappoint. It is such a fragile time in one’s life and you may be extra sensitive to everything. Many people don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting. Often the person will attempt to make you feel better by trying to give you an answer as to why the loss occurred or tell you how you should feel. You may have also experienced those people who just avoid you because your loss is too uncomfortable for them.   These people don’t understand that all you need is caring and comfort, or maybe they just don’t know how to give it.

While the list of “Things Not to Say to People Who are Grieving” is quite long, for the purposes of this article I am focusing on the five that stand out to me as very common mistakes.

After sharing these ill-advised responses, I have offered some insight to the grievers to help them understand and to give them hope and encouragement. My top five worst things to say to someone who is grieving are:

1.“I know how you feel.”

When someone is going through a loss they are often consumed by feelings that are indescribable and overwhelming. Even if you have experienced the same type of event, such as the death of a parent or the loss of a job, this doesn’t mean that your emotional reactions to the event will be the same. While a miscarriage for one person may have little impact; for another it may spiral her into a significant period of grief. And while you may “know how they feel” the one grieving needs to be heard first and foremost. The grieving person needs your listening ear and comforting shoulder.   This is about them. Keep the focus on them and off of you. You can share some of the commonalities you have from your similar experiences at a later time when the grieving person’s feelings aren’t so raw.

To the griever:  Your feelings are uniquely your own and nobody can fully understand the depth of your suffering. Even those who may be sharing your loss may be grieving differently than you. Your grief deserves its own attention. If someone tells you they know how you feel in a way that makes you feel minimized or dismissed, move on to someone else who can give you the support and comfort you need. This is a confusing time and it is important you talk to people you feel can handle you right where you are. If you know someone who has been through a similar experience and that brings you comfort; then by all means lean on them.

2.“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

A while back I did an all-day workshop on loss. During one of the exercises people wrote on the board the stupid or hurtful things people have said to them. This response elicited strong negative feelings from those in attendance.   While this may be your belief system and even the belief system that the griever adheres too, saying it to someone who is in the midst of suffering is not encouraged. I think people often say this because they don’t know how else to comfort the person or they feel a need to make sense of the situation. Please be considerate of the other person and keep that thought to yourself for the time being. This is especially true when you don’t know the person’s belief system.Even people with a very strong faith system question God when they are going through grief. This is normal. The loss the griever is experiencing in the moment usually feels like much more than they can handle or ever imagined experiencing. Statements like the above can make the person feel minimized, angry and they may want to distance themselves from you due to their mixed feelings towards God’s role in their loss. This statement tells the person that God wants them to feel this pain or that God had a part in it. The grieving person needs time to process their feelings towards God as they move through the stages of grief.

To the griever: I have no idea why you are suffering the loss you are experiencing. “Why?” is a normal question that is often asked. No one has that answer. The situation is overwhelming. Feeling like it is too much to handle is normal and natural. You are only human after all. I hope you will seek out others who understand the difficult time you are having. This is a time when you need the safe support of those who can help you through such a confusing and dark period. Don’t try to handle these feelings all by yourself. Please allow yourself to lean on safe and understanding people.

3.“You shouldn’t feel that way.”

What an awful thing to say to someone who is suffering a loss. Yet, amazingly, this has been said to many who are struggling. Grief is one of the most unpredictable emotions. It changes you forever. Everyone has a right to grieve in their own way with whatever feelings they are experiencing. You and I have no right to tell them how they should feel. When the grieving person is responding in a way that doesn’t fit with what another deems acceptable, then often that person will make a judgmental statement or behave in a way that is hurtful to the griever.I remember when I received the news that my brother had been killed. It was first thing in the morning. It was shocking. Since my family lived out of town I had to spend the day coordinating the quickest way to get home. It wasn’t until the evening that I called my best friend from college. When I called her I told her what happened in a very matter-of-fact way. By that time I was completely numb; there was no sobbing, hysteria, etc. I didn’t hear from her for three weeks. When I did talk to her she said she didn’t call because I didn’t seem that upset about it! We didn’t speak for a year.That is an example of how my friend had an expectation of how I “should have” been when I called her. She made judgments about me because I didn’t respond in the way see deemed appropriate. And this is someone with whom I had been close. She was not able to take into consideration what had gone on for me all day and to understand where my head was. In fact, her clear lack of support made her judgment of me very evident. It took a while to make amends in that relationship.

To the griever: Whatever feelings you are feeling from hour to hour, day to day are normal for you and your situation. Please be careful not to feel guilty about your feelings. Not all the feelings you have will make sense to you. Surround yourself with people who can handle the depth of your feelings. The hurt that you feel when someone you think cares cuts you off or tells you not to feel that way is significant. Tell them when they hurt your feelings. If they keep failing at supporting you reach out to others who do provide the support you need. Sometimes the people who can understand your feelings may surprise you.

4.“Time heals all wounds.”

What a popular saying. Is it true? Maybe for some things. I don’t think it is time that necessarily heals the hurt, but what we do about our loss during that time. Either way, telling someone that time heals all wounds when they just lost their child, or when their husband of twenty years walks out is not really what they need to hear. Ask yourself what the point is in you saying that? How is that helpful? Please try and respect that the griever is in a very fragile state and doesn’t need trite answers or platitudes. If you don’t know what to say, you could say, “Just wanted to let you know I will be thinking of you and praying for you.” That is very kind.I imagine if we interviewed those who have been through various losses and asked them if they agreed with the statement “time heals all wounds” we would get mixed responses. From my own life I can say time has greatly helped with some of the losses I have experienced, such as hurtful situations in relationships, different transitions etc. I think it was a combination of time and my own personal growth. However, there are several other losses that “time hasn’t healed” and never will. While I may not walk around crying every day or talking about it, the injury is still deep and impactful.

To the griever: If someone or several people say this to you I apologize for them. It is a trite and aloof comment. Feel free to respond “Well it doesn’t feel like it.” Or just brush them off and seek out others who will not try and tell you that you will feel better soon or in time. While that may be true it isn’t what you usually want to hear. The timeframe of your healing journey is yours and will be walked through at your own pace.

5.“Call me if you need anything.”

This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. Others may not put it in their top five worst things to say to someone who is grieving, but I like to be different! This statement reminds me of when someone asked you how you are doing, but you know they really don’t care or have time to listen. Here is the deal. When someone is going through a loss then you can be pretty sure they are going to need something. Whether it is to go to the grocery store for them, put gas in their car, drive their kids somewhere, cook for them, clean their house, wash their car, cut their grass etc. My recommendation is to just do these things for them. You call them and say “I am coming over tomorrow morning to cut your grass.” Or, “I am going to the grocery store this afternoon and I need your list.” While some grievers may be comfortable asking for help, others are not. If fact, I know many people who won’t ask because they don’t want to bother someone.To the griever: I encourage you to let others help you and support you. Let someone cut your grass or clean your car or your house. Receive help. Now is the time to let others do for you. If you know you have a need, ask for help from someone you believe will be reliable. I am guessing many people have offered for you to call them if you need anything; so do it. I know it can be risky to ask for what you need, but now is not the time to be superhuman. I hope you will give yourself permission to receive the physical support you need.In conclusion, there are many stages in the grieving process and each of us will travel through them differently. Understanding this can be very healing for both you and others who are suffering through the confusing maze of loss. I hope you can be more accepting of both your own grief process and that of another.

To the griever: There is support out there for you! If you don’t feel you are receiving enough support or just need more, please consider reaching out. You can call a grief counselor. Grief counselors can be found in private practice, hospice, churches and your local community mental health centers. There are also support groups for grief such as loss of a loved one, divorce, supporting aging parents, etc. Please don’t struggle alone. Transitions can be difficult and it is human to need some support through them. I hope you will give yourself the care you need and deserve.


Are You Responsible For Your Relationships Problems?

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Do you feel like you’re always doing all the giving in your relationship and rarely getting anything in return?  Do you ever feel that know matter what you do it will never be good enough.  Are often irritated by people who don’t have much common sense?  Maybe you are living on the Drama Triangle!

One of my favorite tools I use on a daily basis to monitor my interactions with others is called “The Drama Triangle,” by Stephen Karpman.  While it is nearly impossible to give full credence to this wonderful perspective in a short blog, I will do my best to give a concise overview.

All unhealthy relationships take place on the Drama Triangle.  It describes specific ways one relates to others.  There are three positions on this triangle:  persecutor, rescuer and victim.  While only one position is called victim all positions are actually victim positions of sort.  We each have a primary position that tends to dominate our interactions.  The “starting gate position,” as named by Karpman is the one we learn from our history and shows up in most commonly in our relationships.

Imagine an upside down triangle.  On the upper part of each side of the triangle are the positions of persecutor and rescuer.  On the bottom is victim.  The persecutor and rescuer are on top because they are both one up positions.  Both of these positions require a victim to sustain their position on the triangle.  The victim is in a one down position.

The rescuer is the classic codependent.  This person is the savior, mediator, helper, fixer, etc.  The rescuer has to have someone who needs them to sustain their position.  Helping others is how this person defines who they are.  Rescuers often grew up not getting their emotional vulnerabilities met or validated.  Therefore they hide these emotional vulnerabilities by appearing needless.  They secretly keep hoping that if they keep giving and giving, one day someone will be there for them.  Their greatest fear is that no one will be there.

The persecutor sustains their one up position through domination.  They have to have someone to blame.  Hence a victim is necessary for the persecutor to project their unclaimed weaknesses on.  Persecutors do this in various ways; lecturing, teaching, blaming, yelling ect.  Persecutors believe they are always right.  Their greatest fear is being out of control.  Persecutors were often raised in abusive shaming households and sometimes take on the qualities of their abuser.  This position is often the hardest for one to take ownership of because the persecutor sees them self as a victim who is just trying to protect them self.

The victim position is one in which the person has given up or not claimed their God given ability to make decisions and trust their own competencies.   Instead they look to others to guide and lead them.  Often victims were raised by a strong rescuer.  Victims eat a daily venue of shame and believe they are intrinsically defective or bad.  The language of the victim often includes a lot of “yes, but…”

As you read this brief introduction to the three positions on the Karpman Drama Triangle which one do you relate too most?  Is it easy to pick your primary position?  The ultimate goal is to identify your pattern and learn to grow and change so you don’t fall into these dysfunctional ways of relating to others.

Do You Know What’s Important to You?

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Are you living your best life?  There are many aspects that are important in helping you achieve the happiest, healthiest life possible.  Identifying your values and goals is essential to having a more satisfying life.    How can you attain the life you want if you are not clear about what is most important to you?  Fundamentally, that is what values are:  what is important to you.  Just going through the motions of daily life is living passively.   As I state in my book, “one is often so busy doing life that it is easy to avoid evaluating whether you are putting your energy in the directions you value most.”  Taking time to gain clarity about what is important to you is imperative.  As you are more aware of what you value, then you can create goals that will adhere to and reinforce these values.  Goal setting is a way of assuring that you are progressing in a manner that aligns with your values.

One simple way to begin evaluating if you’re living in alignment with what you value most is to write down what you do in your average 24-hour workday, and then again write down how you typically spend a weekend day.  How much of your time and energy is in expended on what is most important to you?  It is easy to get so busy that you don’t realize how little energy you are putting towards what is important to you.  I realize most of us have to work and that takes a large portion of our time.  However, how are you using your time when you’re not working?  I encourage you to use this exercise as a tool to help direct you in ways you can adjust your energies so that you are more in harmony with what is most important to you.

If you recognize areas that need to be adjusted, then make small goals to begin changing them.  Maybe you notice that you spend two-hours from 8-10pm watching TV.  You may make it your goal to spend only one-hour watching TV and the other hour exercising, working on a personal project, spending time with your children or putting your energy into something else that is very important to you.  It is easy to let time get the best of you!  Better to make the best of your time!



Another Takes Their Own Life!

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For many of us who live in Pinellas County it was just yesterday that we read in the local newspaper about a young, talented local girl who recently graduated valedictorian and was attending a prestigious university who apparently jumped to her death.   And not long prior to this tragedy a local teenage boy who was a very talented swimmer and from all accounts was jovial and happy, ended his young life.

While I don’t know the specifics of either of these individuals’ situations it breaks my heart that so many of our teenagers don’t make it into adult hood.  I don’t want to age myself when I say “times have changed!”  While during my teenage years their certainly was a lot of drama that occurred and, yes, there was competition amongst students for various reasons.  It seems to me that the pressures on our young kids today is amplified compared to the days of past.

It isn’t just peer pressure; we currently have higher educational demands.  A weighted GPA’s above 4.0 is common.  Now dual enrollment is seen frequently.   College admission requirements are demanding more of their applicants.  The increase in pressure in the sports arena is also evident.

I am not saying some of the changes that have occurred in the educational and sports arenas’ aren’t good.   However, one may wonder if we as a culture have gone too far with these increased demands.  As adults we know the pressures of today’s world.  In theory, we are supposed to be more equipped than our adolescent children to handle these multiple stressors.

And so I ask; what are we to take away from these local tragedies and the many others all around the globe?   Since most of us don’t know the families immediately touched by these losses, what can we do to help?   Maybe we could each choose to be a little kinder to those around us.  Maybe the next time someone accidently cuts you off in traffic you can be more patient.  Or you could be more patient in the grocery line, perhaps even let someone who has less groceries go ahead of you.

My kids often get embarrassed by me because they say I talk to too many people.  They will even ask me why I have to talk to everyone.  And my response is “why not?”  What’s wrong with being friendly?  In essence, maybe we adults can move slower and be more mindful of those around us.  We can take less for granted and be thankful for what we do have instead of focusing on all we don’t have.

And those of us who are parents I imagine we can be as alert as possible to the surrounding of our children. Also, to focus more on the positive traits of our children and point out the many things they do correctly.  How easy it is to notice all they do wrong, sometimes it’s almost second nature.

So today I implore each of us to notice the positive before the negative.  Share with those in your life what you like before sharing your complaint.  Be more encouraging than discouraging.  And pray for those who are suffering that they may reach out for support and that support will be given.  For whoever really knows the soul of another!   Here is one of many links if you want to learn more about suicide prevention:  http://www.apa.org/research/action/suicide.aspx




What’s Wrong With Some Constructive Criticism Anyway?


What do you think it is about that most of us find it hard to focus on what is positive about our behavior or the behavior of another?  It seems that “constructive criticism” or “advice giving” tends to triumph above noticing what we or the other did well.  I would truly love to hear your thoughts on why you think this is often the case!  Do you find that pointing out what others could do better and what you didn’t do as good as you could have is your tendency?   If so you are not alone.

Here is my challenge:  for the next week I want you to write down three positive things about yourself each day.  If that is too difficult then you can write three positive things that happened in your day.  Notice what this exercise is like for you.  At the end of the week I invite you to journal about the experience.  Part two of the challenge is try and be conscious of acknowledging a positive trait or behavior that another did.  Be more on purpose about noticing what the other is doing correctly or something about the other that you want to compliment and/or encourage.  Then at the end of the week write down what that was like for you.

I can pretty much guarantee that if you are in need of judgment and criticism it is easily available probably in many facets of life.  And most of us tend to be our own worst enemy so I am assuming that a little focus on what is good and positive will not hurt anyone too much!  So why not just try it!

The two most impactful mentors in my life both used this approach.  One was my first boss when I was just 22 years old:   Linda.  She found a way to see the many creative qualities I possessed and focused on those more so than the many other aspects of my personality that had a long way to go to reach maturity!

The greatest example of this is my mentor, training, supervisor, and teacher:  Dr. Nina Garci.  Dr. Garci has been my primary training in the area of psychodrama since 1993.  Psychodrama is a very detailed and complex approach to working with clients.  From the first time I directed a psychodrama to current she always pointed out what she liked about what I did!  I have never experienced anything like it!  I became a wonderful psychodramatist without an ounce of correction!!!  Yes, there was years of training where I was taught intellectually and in practice how to be a good director, so there was instruction; just never pointed out all I did wrong, just what I did right.

That may leave you with a lot of “yes, but…” questions.  I am not saying that you too do it just as Dr. Garci did.  However, I am suggesting that focusing more on the positive truths will most likely serve all of us better.

A Valentine’s Day for All!

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Valentine’s Day can be a joyful, celebratory time for many happy couples.  Often it is a time to rejoice about the wonderful relationship you share with your partner.   Unfortunately, the media has pivoted this day into one that is often filled with pressure to perform for our lover via making sure we get the right card, gift or proper festive event.     However, this year my hope is that you will keep this day in perspective.  It is fine to honor your love on this designated day, however, know that the relationship requires honoring and work every day.

And let us not forget those who may not have a special someone in their life.  This day can be about the many that touch our lives, not just someone we call our “lover.” Reach out to someone you care about and let them know they are special.  Send a valentine card or note to your friends, family, children or anyone else that you appreciate.  Reach out to that person who recently lost their loved one or is experiencing difficulty in their relationship.

With the “hype” that goes into this day it can have a significant negative effect on those that do not share a loving relationship with a partner.   I encourage each of you to reach out beyond just the traditional notion of Valentine’s Day and spread the feeling of appreciation all around you.  It has been said, “The more you give, the more you get.” Give on!

Are You Proactive or Reactive?


There seem to be many people these days that express a general dissatisfaction with their lives. Often they seem unclear about how to change or even wonder if change is possible. We all get into “ruts”, however, I am speaking more of a perpetual feeling of discontent. If you are struggling with this feeling you may be living in a reactive versus proactive manner.

What do I mean by the above statement? You are being reactive when life happens and you ebb and flow wherever and whichever way it takes you. Life and all of its circumstances control you. When you approach life more proactively you are alert and consciously aware of the direction you choose to move with the circumstances life brings. When you are proactive you take the initiative and responsibility for directing your life. Of course there are many aspects of life one cannot control (natural disasters, deaths, etc.), but I am talking about being proactive in attitude; a general stance towards life. A proactive person will not let life and its happenings win.

In what areas of your life do you need to take more responsibility and ownership? I have developed what is called “The Circle of Life” which describes various components of your life. These areas are: emotional, social, physical, spiritual, occupational and intellectual. Emotional entails your emotional and mental health. Social includes all aspects of your social lives, such as, close friends, acquaintances, lovers and family. Physical includes your physical health and also your need for physical touch and your sexual self. Spiritual is about seeking your highest level of spiritual truth and growth. Occupational involves all aspects of occupational well-being and balance including one’s financial security. Intellectual has to do with your mind’s need to be stimulated and enhanced.

The “Circle of Life” is best when seen as a whole. If you are lacking in any area and especially if you have a deficit in several areas, then you probably feel unsettled or discontent. I find it useful to review this “Circle of Life” at a minimum every six-months as a ‘self-check’ on how you are doing. It is meant to help you take responsibility for the areas that are out-of-balance so you can feel more fulfilled. Balancing your life so you can be more fulfilled is a constant challenge!

If you allow yourself to stay stagnant and do not take responsibility for the areas in which you are most lacking then you will usually feel like a victim. Victims generally feel powerless and unable to succeed. It’s unlikely that anyone would feel fulfilled with this kind of outlook or approach to life.