Sympathy, not.

This is a list of ways not to give sympathy.
I collected this list from Ms. Manners a long time ago. Since then I’ve reworked it some and added some more.

  • Pangloss – it is all for the best
  • Affirm’s this is a just world – “Probably deserved it…”  “If only he had stopped”
  • Relativism – “You know, it could be worse.”
  • Competition – “You think you’ve got troubles!  Let me tell you about my …”
  • Emotional Vampire – “Go ahead feel bad!  Cry!  I’m here for you.”
  • Not a Quiter – “I’m sure this will only lead you to redouble your efforts.”
  • Predjudice – “Ah that’s how people like you deal with this, eh?”
  • Distraction – “Ah, how ’bout those Red Sox!”

Since we are on the topic I might as well mention the right thing to do.

“I’m so sorry, I just want you to know I’m here for you.”  and actually doing something is better.

These can be used to construct a very silly joke of the exaggerated kind. Something very minor happens. For example: “Oh, we are out of milk!” you then trot out the full set one after another. “Well it’s probably for the best. We probably don’t deserve milk. You think that’s trouble why my toast is cold! …” This works best if you can the entire family to join in.
Next time something bad happens to you, see if you can collect the whole set.

6 thoughts on “Sympathy, not.

  1. LionKimbro

    Sounds like material to save for the InterPersonal Relationships wiki!

    Why, a friend of mine and I were just thinking about that the other day… Down at the bottom, where we talk where to link to from Mentat.

  2. Kris Hasson-Jones

    I used to be one of the people who never knew what to say; I hadn’t experienced loss yet. Now I know, that what you recommend really is enough, and the best thing to say.

    The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to let the bereaved person talk about the death as much as he wants to. That’s what has helped me the most. But being around grief, and especially the deep grief people have when they’ve lost someone they were close to, is scary and hard for people who aren’t experiencing grief themselves.

  3. Seth Finkelstein

    Typo: “Distraction”

    I don’t think the response you label as “Emotional Vampire” is necessarily bad, maybe it should be qualified.

    There’s probably a division to be made between when the sympathizer can do something to change the situation, and when they can’t (e.g. death).

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