This is a very slightly modified version of a post I wrote quite some time ago, something I frequently reference because it’s simpler than endlessly repeating myself in response to people trying (and failing) to be helpful and supportive.
A work-in-progress list of do’s and don’ts for those who wish to offer support — here’s how to best go about doing so. This will likely expand over time as I think of other bits to add, but here’s at least the basics.
DO: Ask whether I’m looking for advice before offering it — or whether I’m seeking sympathy. Most of the time, I have a very clear idea of what my options are in a given situation, and I’m not telling you about it so that you can (attempt to) fix it; more often than not, I just want to know that I am heard, that I’m not alone. I’m also usually pretty good at explicitly asking for help when I need it, and asking for specifically what I need.
DO: If it’s on Facebook, click that “Like” button! Same goes for anywhere else there’s an equivalent function. Yeah, I know you probably don’t actually like the situation I’ve posted about; if it’s something where you’d offer support it’s probably not a great thing. But since there’s generally no button for “I know these feels” or “that really sucks” or “I don’t like this at all and I’m sorry you’re dealing with that situation” then “Liking” my post at least lets me know you’ve seen it, lets me know that I am heard (see above.) If you don’t quite have the words, this is at least a good start.
DO: Comment if you can — I know it’s often hard to find the right words, or to know what to say. If the situation sucks… try “that really sucks!” If you can relate, and you know the feeling… maybe “I can totally relate” or “I know the feeling” would work? Yeah, it seems pretty obvious when it’s spelled out like that, but I recognize it isn’t always obvious when your fingers are hovering over your keyboard, trying to find a way to reply to a post.
And a few things you should really avoid, if your goal is to be supportive…
DON’T: Offer advice if I haven’t specifically asked for it. If I’m posting about my frustration with the noise when I’m trying to sleep, don’t chime in to tell me I should try using earplugs! If I mention that I think I’m getting a cold, don’t ask whether I’m making sure to get plenty of rest and lots of Vitamin C. If you see me ranting about the seeming impossibility of finding housing in the Bay Area, please, for the love of fuck, do not let me hear the words “Section 8” from you! I can guarantee you — as mentioned above — that I usually have a very clear idea of what my options are in a given situation… and almost certainly a better idea than you do.
DON’T: Spout platitudes and greeting-card copy at me. Telling me that “it gets better” or that “everything happens for a reason.” pointing out that “it’s always darkest before the dawn” and “tomorrow is another day,” or telling me to “take things one step at a time” and “just breathe deeply” are all good ways to get on my shitlist… and quickly. It’s also incredibly dismissive; when I’m hurting, that pain is real. It’s okay for that pain to be real, to be acknowledged. When your response to my pain is to point out that some other time I might not hurt… that’s like me telling you to not be concerned with any hunger you feel, because some other time you might not be as hungry. Not helpful at all.
DON’T: Keep pressing your point if I’ve already turned it down. If I’ve directed you to any of my “user manual” posts, it’s probably because you’ve said or done something that wasn’t very helpful, something that I’ve addressed too many times before — and I don’t have the energy to go over it again at that point just for you. Same goes for me simply telling you simply that you’re not helping; that’s all you need to know, and again, I’m not going to try to spell it all out for you. I realize you may not have intended to offend, and I’m essentially pointing you to the FAQ… which is not at all the same as pointing you to the exit with an order to GTFO. So that’s the point where trying to convince me that you really do have a valid point, that you really didn’t mean to offend, but you really can offer me something helpful… is going to push me further away, and I’ll be less likely to trust you to be supportive in the future.
Advice, or sympathy? Probably the latter.