How to Know the Right Thing to Say

One of the things that struck me during my journey through cancer, was when a few brave souls admitted “I just don’t know what to say” upon hearing the news that I was sick. I was amazed at how much courage it took to admit to feeling vulnerable and at a loss for words. And then I was amazed at how simple the answer really was.

Sometimes there are no “right words” to say.

And that is when words that are heartfelt and authentic matter the most – even if they come out awkwardly. When people told me they didn’t know what to say, it made it feel a little more ok for me to reply “me either!”. And when people didn’t say anything at all, just wrapped their arms around me and gave me a hug, it made it feel a little more ok to take a deep breath and steady myself in that moment. And when people asked if there was anything they could do, it made it a little easier to ask for help.

Let me tell you something important.

I don’t have a single memory of feeling anger at anyone for their response to finding out I had cancer. But I do have memories of laughter, quiet talks, bravery, connection, shared stories and hugs. That tells me that while there may not be any “right words” – there are a myriad of right reactions. Because what was most important wasn’t necessarily what was said, as much as how it was said and what actions went with it.

Even if it was “Wow, that really scares me. You’re so young!”. Because that just made it ok for me to admit to feeling scared as well.

So, the next time you feel stumped for a response to a difficult situation, take a moment to ask yourself what you are feeling. And then, try to act on that. Even if it means saying, in the simplest language, that you don’t know what you’re feeling, how to act or what to say.

With special thanks to Garry Wilmore for image use

About Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW

Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW is a licensed and trained psychotherapist who helps overwhelmed women, frustrated parents, and anyone who has experienced trauma, to find a more balanced lifestyle, move on from troubling events and form meaningful relationships with reawakened creativity for happier and healthier lives.

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