How often do we feel tempted to use expressions like, ‘it’ll be ok’ or ‘things could be worse,’ when speaking to ourselves or others during difficult times?
In a world that values positivity and resilience, it can be challenging to navigate difficult times without feeling pressure to always be, or feel, positive. We live in a society that encourages us to put on a brave face and tackle adversity with unwavering strength. While positivity and optimism have their place, it’s essential to recognise the importance of being thoughtful with our words and allowing space for authentic emotions during challenging times. By doing so, we can foster healthier mental wellbeing and create a supportive environment for ourselves and others.
Expressions like, ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘things could be worse’ are often used to provide comfort or reassurance, or we may use them to talk ourselves into feeling differently. Although well-intentioned, these responses can often overlook the complexity of individual experiences and can invalidate our true emotions. They might also (inadvertently) pressure us to suppress our real feelings – believing that acknowledging pain or struggle is a sign of weakness.
In reality, a healthier approach during challenging times involves embracing the full range of our emotions. It’s perfectly natural and normal to feel sadness, anger, fear and frustration. By acknowledging and validating these emotions, we allow ourselves to process and navigate a way through them in a healthy and constructive way.
When supporting loved ones, it’s crucial to be mindful of the language we use. Rather than offering simplistic solutions or attempting to minimise their pain, we can take a more empathetic and compassionate approach.
Here are some suggestions:
This is about creating a safe and non-judgemental space for someone to express their emotions. Allowing them to speak openly without interruption and listening attentively to what they say can be so powerful. By actively listening, we validate their experiences and demonstrate that their feelings are important and worthy of acknowledgement – often without saying much at all
This is about empathising with their emotions rather than trying to remove or resolve the problem or immediately offering solutions. Validations like, ‘it’s ok to feel upset about this’ or ‘that sounds really difficult’ may help to create an environment where they feel seen and heard. It’s important that this is a genuine response, which may be an area where lots of people feel out of their comfort zone.
If we can refrain from judging or criticising someone’s emotions based on our own feelings or experiences and instead appreciate that each person’s experience is unique, it can help the person to be free to express their true selves. What may seem insignificant to one person may be deeply distressing to another.
This doesn’t mean saying things like ‘it’ll be ok,’ because there’s never any guarantee that’ll be the case. Supporting someone could be about reminding them that there’s support available. Maybe you could signpost the support you’re aware of. Phrases like, ‘I’m here and I’m listening’ or ‘take all the time you need’ can help them feel comforted and understood.
Perhaps you can offer practical support to make a significant and tangible difference. This could be helping with daily tasks or accompanying them to appointments, if appropriate. Practical support shows your commitment to their wellbeing.
If someone’s struggles persist or become overwhelming (which can, of course, be the case for anyone), you could gently suggest they seek professional help. However, this should always be done as part of an existing supportive relationship. Mental health professionals are trained to provide guidance and support during difficult times and their expertise can be invaluable when navigating complex emotions.
I’m sure if the stigma of not being ok continues to be challenged, we can create a more compassionate and understanding community. Remember that being positive doesn’t mean denying or suppressing pain – it means embracing authenticity and finding strength in vulnerability.
It really is ok to not be ok. In fact, it can lead to beneficial changes in our lives if we seek support at the right time.