It's OK to not be OK. But when dealing with a personal matter, a social issue, or a political dialogue, it can be hard finding the right words to express precisely how you feel—and to console others who might be dealing with their own problems, too. Sometimes, there is no right thing to say—but for advice navigating any tough situation, Dr. Kelsey Crowe, author of the new book, There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love, has some useful advice.
Whether you're trying to articulate your feelings about the election, consoling a friend who's going through relationship problems, or helping a family member through an illness, these five tips will help you use your words to heal.
Tip No. 1: Positivity Isn't Always the Answer
When bad things happen, looking on the bright side isn't always the best option. Sometimes you need time to let yourself feel what you need to feel. "It's appropriate to have time to mourn, and let your situation soak in," says Crowe. "Grief and anger are absolutely acceptable emotions." Give yourself (and others) time to feel the emotions that they need to feel—after that, you can move on.
Tip No. 2: Sometimes It Takes More Than One Conversation
"In some tough situations, there is also hope, and people themselves can be the source of that hope," says Crowe. "But it's not always good to bring up hope in the same conversation when you're still mourning." It can take time to come to grips with difficult situations, and that means talking it out several times. In the aftermath of tragedy, there must be time to mourn—you can bring up hope in a later conversation.
Tip No. 3: Confirmation Goes a Long Way
When it seems like there's really nothing to say, acknowledgement of the problem can actually make a major impact. "Sometimes, all you can say is, 'This sucks and it's scary,'" Crowe says. By validating someone's emotions, you become a more empathetic, active listener. Avoid explaining someone's emotions to them or trying to undercut them with your own opinions or experiences. Most people simply look for an open heart and an open ear—and "This sucks," can, oddly enough, provide just that.
Tip No. 4: Complacency Does No Good
As much as we might be inclined to say that "everything will be OK," the fact of the matter is that sometimes things aren't OK. "In the case of any hard times, saying, 'Don't worry. It will work out,' is a complacent form of hope," says Crowe. "When we cross our fingers and hope for the best, we basically put our heads in the sand. Really, hope is about working towards making a situation better. There are actions you can take to feel better." In a political situation, that can mean calling your representatives and volunteering to make a difference. In a personal situation, that can mean doling out some acts of kindness and practicing empathy.
Tip No. 5: Perspective Is Key
"I don't know if anything can be a greater insight than perspective and time," says Crowe. "In the course of living our lives, we see that people's better nature does win out. We have to be able to invite that better nature in. That's both in our personal lives and our political lives. When we are just angry, we are not inviting that better nature in. We are really closing ourselves off from other people. To the extent that we can continue to believe in people's humanity and goodness and soak all that in where we find it, the more we will believe in hope." Experience may be be the greatest teacher of all—and with time (and work), things can get better.