You Don’t Know “Everything’s Going To Be Okay”: Here’s What To Say Instead
In the midst of our most difficult moments in life, we need to be supported with truthful evaluations of our situation and how to move forward. The notion that “everything’s going to be okay” isn’t necessarily true, unfortunately, and can be perceived as a flat-out lie when we need someone to feel our pain, and feel our hardships.
I have been exposed to the crises of hundreds of people through my volunteer work with Crisis Text Line. Sometimes there is no clear path out. Sometimes you cannot reassure them with an honest conscience that “everything’s going to be okay.” It’s not okay; – there’s no productive purpose in trying to make them believe in an idea of which you yourself are doubtful.
A mother is never the same after she loses a child, for instance. It doesn’t matter if she has or will have more children in the future; the pain will most likely follow her around for the rest of her life. It is very possible to keep moving forward, of course, but I would never call it okay. It’s not okay – it’s not fair at all.
Open wounds can remain open and become integral parts of our memories and sense of selves. Though we may overcome hardships in the grand schemes of our lives, and learn to be okay in our own right, what happened will never be okay in our minds. What that means is that the past continues to be frozen, these little snippets of time locked into place – what we felt and thought in those moments doesn’t change, but our views on it can change in the future.
Instead of telling me “everything’s going to be okay,” I want you to tell me “it’s absolutely awful that that happened to you,” “I cannot imagine the amount of pain you’re in right now,” “I want to be here to support you in whatever ways I can,” etc. You cannot tell me “everything’s going to be okay.” You cannot feel what I feel, or think what I think; so much distance exists between supporter and supported. You may have experienced similar events in the past, but we are all different in our responses to them. You have to acknowledge those differences and try to bridge the emotional distance between those who need support and want to support.
We all want to do our best to be supportive of those around us, but our approaches matter more than we think. It is possible to do accidental harm in our endeavors to support – it can be completely unintentional even if you have your heart in the right place, so it is helpful to be more aware of what works and what does not. Most of us follow the norms in terms of emotional support. Those norms can be misguided and perpetuate certain issues in how we connect with those in pain.
Tell me that you cannot understand, but that you want to understand – and listen, really listen. You may feel uncomfortable supporting someone in a difficult situation and be tempted to reassure them “everything’s going to be okay.” But I want to challenge you to allow the discomfort to exist within your own body. Let yourself feel what needs to be felt and do not brush off the pain you encounter in those you care about.