If you’ve ever been in a dark place, emotionally speaking, or gone through tough times, was there someone who really came through for you and made a difference? Do you ever wonder why that one (or if you’re lucky, more than one) person’s actions were/are so helpful and another person’s irritated/irritate the heck out of you?
I could be wrong, but I would guess the person you’ve found to be most supportive during difficult times was the one who refrained from trying to be the Fixer.
Am I right?
When a person is grieving or has been handed a cancer diagnosis or is going through any sort of life-altering, difficult experience, they probably aren’t looking for a Fixer.
Some pain cannot be fixed.
Suggesting to someone who’s hurting that she should be strong when she’s feeling anything but, is not a good idea either.
Offering platitudes in general just isn’t that helpful.
People who are in pain don’t need Fixers or platitudes.
You might want to read, The Unspoken Half of Those Platitudes.
They likely do need Listeners.
I just finished reading the book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. Bowler was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 35.
In her book, she addresses this topic of Fixers and platitudes, too, saying:
These are the three life lessons people try to teach me that, frankly, feel worse than cancer itself. The first is that I shouldn’t be so upset, because the significance of death is relative. I like to call the people with that message the Minimizers…A lot of Christians like to remind me that heaven is my true home, which makes me want to ask them if they would like to go home first.
I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard from the Minimizers, am I right?
The Minimizers often resort to those annoying “at least” comments too.
Nothing minimizes your experience more than hearing something like, at least you got the good cancer or at least he’s in a better place now. Ugh…
“At least” comments make me want to scream!
Bowler shares about life lesson number two that another set of cheerleaders often insist upon:
…the Teachers, who focus on how this experience is supposed to be an education in mind, body and spirit.
(As a former educator, it pains me a little to call this group the Teachers.)
This type of cheer-leading really grates on my nerves – as you likely know by now! Pushing back, is THE basic premise behind my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person.
I’ll say it again and again. And again:
Cancer is a horrible disease NOT an enlightenment program.
And the same can be said about grief.
Who needs a degree from the University of Cancer or Grief?
(That’s supposed to be sarcasm.)
And the third lesson is mostly about attitude about which Bowler says this:
The hardest lessons come from the Solutions People, who are already a little disappointed that I am not saving myself.
Yep. The tyranny of positive thinking. No need to say more.
People who are hurting don’t need Fixers, or Minimizers, or Teachers or Solution Givers.
What they likely need is just the presence of someone who cares, shows up (doesn’t even necessarily have to be physically) and listens.
Sitting with someone and listening is sometimes the best way of all to help. Silence can be very validating and comforting. Hugs can be as well.
Bowler’s wise words near the end of her book say it so well:
The truth is that no one knows what to say. It’s awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People’s weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up.
So, when someone you care about is hurting, don’t try to be the Fixer. That’s not your job.
Show up and shut up.
Perhaps it is as simple as that.
Sure, sometimes the latter is hard to do. But it just might be the most important and easiest way to help that dear one who’s hurting.
Because sometimes silence isn’t silent at all.
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Share about an encounter you’ve had with a Fixer, Minimizer, Teacher or Solutions Giver.
How do you try to help others who are hurting?
When you’re hurting, what do you appreciate most from your supporters?
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