Please Don’t Tell Me You Know How I Feel

I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear anyone say they “know how I feel.” You don’t.

I know you mean well, but how I feel has nothing to do with you. By saying you know how I feel, you’re redirecting the focus to yourself. It’s called conversational narcissism.

If you’re suffering — battling cancer, grieving over the loss of a loved one, going through a traumatic divorce or whatever — I don’t know how you feel. I can assume it’s really bad, but you don’t need anyone telling you that, anymore than you need someone telling you something you’ll never believe (that they know how you feel).

It’s not that I’m good at responding to people in crisis. I’m not. Usually, I don’t know what to say. Sometimes, it seems the best I can do is not say something I know is false or, possibly, counterproductive, such as “I know how you feel.”

It’s hard, because sometimes I think I do know how they feel. And perhaps I do, to an extent. But not fully. Each person, and each person’s experience, are unique, despite humanity’s commonalities. Respecting that uniqueness is important, especially when the other person is suffering.

So sometimes all I can say is, “I’m sorry.” Or “I’m sorry for what you’re going through.”

I can say more, but only if I truly mean it. I can say, “Please feel free to call me if there is anything I can do.” But, again, only if I mean it.

And sometimes, I think the best we can do is what I saw so many people do when I was growing up in rural south-central Pennsylvania. Sometimes, dropping off a fresh baked pie or casserole is enough. More than enough.

Oh, there’s one last thing, Vera — something you’re good at but, if you’re like many people, may lose the knack for as you grow up. You can hug the person. Or hold their hands.

Sometimes words just get in the way.

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