It Could Be Worse . . .

What Do You Say When Someone Rains Platitudes On Your Trauma?

Alexis Barad-Cutler

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It’s true — not everyone is gifted in the empathy department when it comes to giving someone what they need when they’re trying to express a bad feeling. Many of us tend to be uncomfortable in the face of other people’s pain or suffering. The knee-jerk response to hearing someone complain about something that we can’t actually help or fix is often to say something that we hope might change their perspective. However, as author Peg Streeb writes in Psychology Today, “Telling someone in pain that it’s really not so bad is undercutting and insulting.” The most empathic thing we can do when someone is expressing their struggle, is to simply listen. Or, as Streeb writes, “No one needs to feel grateful that what happened was only a category-three hurricane and not a tsunami.”

For those of us on the receiving end of such unhelpful comments, it might be empowering to have an arsenal of comebacks — er — things to say in reply. We asked NSFMG what they would say if someone told them that “it could always be worse”, and here are the lot of them:

Sometimes I just stare and stay silent. The discomfort makes the person walk away.
— B.
How empathetic, thank you. (With a LOUD eye roll.)
— M.
Fuck you. LOL.
— A.
Yeah, I could get hit by a bus too. But here we are.
— M.
Yeah, like you telling me that. I’m allowed to feel bad about my situation.
— V.
Dead stare. Silence. Wait for them to fill it with an apology.
— L.
This IS the worst.
— L.
I loved how someone said ,“but it could be better.”
— A.
It could be. But it’s not for me right now, so please respect that.
— M.
No, Susan, it doesn’t get worse than this.
— S.
Yeah. It could be worse . . . I could be YOU. (Oh that’s really bad!)
— S.
Thanks for invalidating my feelings.
— R.
Pretty much every situation can have a worse situation. Doesn’t mean this one isn’t shitty in the moment.
— C.
This still rocks my world and keeps me from being whole and at my best. It just means I’m in the club and we don’t compare memberships. We just exist together.”
— C.
It could. But it isn’t. This is the reality now and I’m in pain. Grieve with me.
— Anon.

Of course people do not necessarily mean to be hurtful when they say the “wrong” thing to us, and there isn’t a perfect script for what to say in difficult moments — on either end. At the very least, it can feel empowering to know how to react when someone diminishes our feelings. At the most, we can help prepare that person for the next time they try to support us, by explaining the ways in which we may feel more emotionally supported and how phrases like “could be worse” are not only unhelpful — but harmful.