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The Phrase That Makes No One Feel Better…

I remember the “Hot Topic” for awhile on the interwebs was the uselessness of the, “I’m sorry, but…” apology. Nothing you can complete that phrase with does anything but delete the initial apology. If you’re sorry? Just say, “I’m sorry.” Anything after the, “…but…” means you might not actually be sorry.

I’d like to introduce a new – Maybe We Should Stop Using It – phrase. The, “At least…” response to something negative.

I’ll use an example from my own life where I committed the infraction this week. (Hence the blog topic!) Someone said something about their kid coloring on their walls with crayon and I piped in with an, “At least it wasn’t Sharpie! That’s what mine did!”

Really, Kim?

Obviously, I was trying to commiserate with my friend, but instead my response came off like, “Quit your bitchin’! My situation was MUCH worse!”

If I really wanted to convey my sympathy with a similar experience, I should have said, “That SUUUUUCKS. Wes did that one time with Sharpie, if you didn’t ship your kid to the pound you handled it better than I did.”

See? Commiserating, STILL got my story in, but didn’t make her feel like an idiot for complaining about her crayons when I had marker on my walls.

Now, for a more serious example.

I had a miscarriage between Nikki and Wes. (What? A miscarriage? ME? REALLY? I know! Shocking!) (Is it inappropriate to be snarky about pregnancy loss?) Someone said to me, “I’m sorry, hon. At least you have Nikki!”

Here’s the thing. If someone is complaining about something, whether it’s crayon on the wall or a lost pregnancy, they know it could be worse. We ALL are aware that things could be worse, the “At least…” phrase is pointing out something we already know. And it’s probably going to make us hate you for saying that. Or at the very least, roll our eyes in your general direction.

When someone is complaining about something..they just want to complain. They want someone to say, “Yeah. That sucks. I’m sorry.” Or maybe, “Who should I punch?” They might even like an, “Yeah – that happened to me once. I survived with this useful tool.” They don’t want to know how it could be worse, and they especially don’t want to know how YOUR situation was worse. They just want someone to hear them bitch and recognize that whatever they’re discussing? Sucks donkey balls.

Of course I was happy to have Nikki! Of course I knew I was blessed to have succeeded making at least one child with Donnie. But did that numb the pain of my loss? No. It didn’t. That person telling me that just made me feel stupid for complaining. So, if they were consoling me? They actually made me feel worse.

And on a lighter note – The girl with the crayon on her walls didn’t care that I had Sharpie on mine. She just wanted to bitch about the crayon on her walls. OF COURSE IT COULD BE WORSE. It could be BLOOD. Or FIRE. She wasn’t looking for someone to tell her the awful things her child could have done instead, she just wanted someone in the universe to recognize the shitastic thing she was dealing with.

So…I’m going to really try to delete that phrase from my pool of responses when someone complains. Instead I’ll offer to punch someone, or maybe a useful tool if I’ve been there before. And I can’t offer either of those things? I’ll show up at their door with wine. Or beer. Or chocolate. Whatever they need to cope with the thing that’s upsetting them.

8 thoughts on “The Phrase That Makes No One Feel Better…”

  1. Huh… I’m reading this and realizing I kind ofd o this to myself. Not that it’s not appropriate and healthy to count your blessings and move on, but I’m realizing I rush myself and deny the legitimacy of my feelings in exactly this way. I was thinking last night that I need to be a little gentler with myself while I’m going through some stuff. This would be a good starting point.

  2. If it makes you feel better, I’m guilty of the same thing. I don’t mean to down play someone else’s “stuff”, I’m just commiserating…but sometimes my phrasing is all wrong. And then I end up apologizing and feeling like an a$$.

  3. I know that feeling, when you say “at least it wasn’t…” and you’re met with stony silence and a blink. It suuuuuucks.

    I’ve been trying to do the same as you, saying “oh my gosh that is the worst!” and tryign to leave it there, or expand on it in a way that says that their complaint is totally warranted, ya know?

  4. Great post! I agree, on both counts. I would add, when chatting with parents about something shitastic that happened while parenting, saying, “Oh. Just WAIT,” is UNHELPFUL. :)

  5. You are right and how do I reply without making this about my same bad habit? Listening without waiting to talk is hard and being a Socially Awkward Penguin can make it even harder to carry on a conversation without personal anecdotes (for me anyway). Awareness is the key!

  6. God, I do that. I even try to stop myself, but I have this affliction called being a social idiot where words just pour out of my mouth and I can’t stop them. To redeem myself I usually follow up immediately with advice about how I solved a particular problem. So essentially I’m all “My life is sooo much worse, but look how gracefully I deal with it! I am awesome! Have you tried just being awesome, so you wont have these problems?”

    Dude, now I’m wondering why I have any friends at all.

  7. Oh my god, I seriously just tried to one-up your post about not one-upping other people’s problems. I am totally just going to stop talking now.

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