What Not To Say To A Sick Friend

What Not To Say To A Sick Friend
Who hasn’t felt awkward, uncomfortable or even worse said the wrong thing to a friend with a chronic illness? Maybe you felt a bit frightened by the illness and personalized it. Or you got nervous and talked too much, dwelling on the person’s symptoms, interrogating them about the details. Perhaps, you felt that you needed to adopt the role of a cheerleader leading the sick friend to a healthy victory. Wouldn’t it be great if you simply knew what would be appropriate to say, but even more important what not to say?

Here are common forbidden phrases and conversation topics to avoid:
  • “Get your mind off the pain.” Actually, this will have the opposite effect because you are drawing attention to the “pink elephant” in the room. As soon as someone says to you, “don’t think about it,” you will! Usually, processing the pain and focusing on the fact that it is time limited, when it will ebb and how good that relief will feel, is more helpful. Gradually, the intervals between pain and pain-free get longer.
  • “I know how you feel.” Actually you don’t. Disease and pain alter how someone perceives the world. Many people with chronic diseases feel alienated from humanity –as though everyone is happy while they are not.
  • “A cure is just around the corner.” When someone is ill or suffering, this mythical cure conversation is an irritating platitude. Unless you have specific proof of a new clinical trial, don’t give false hope.
  • “You need to see another doctor.” This makes the person feel like he or she is stupid. Also, this sends a message that maybe they don’t need to have this illness in the first place if they would just see another more competent professional.
  • “What were your latest test results?” Don’t dwell on the symptoms when you go out to lunch or have dinner with someone ill. The person needs to get away from feeling like a patient to enjoy a fun normal experience and talk about what friends talk. Otherwise you are injecting some well-meaning toxicity by dwelling on symptoms and treatments.
  • “Mind over matter. You can heal yourself.” This empowering phrase can add a layer of guilt to the patient with the premise of being weak-willed or having spiritually caused the illness. Some illnesses have genetic and environmental causes beyond the control of the patient. You could suggest a guided meditation or visualization to help the patient reduce stress which does interfere with healing.

Your best cues come from listening. Pauses in conversation are fine. Sometimes people like to just express their own reality, and enjoy your company even without speaking, just holding hands: No advice necessary! As a good friend, you can contribute by asking what you can specifically do to help during a treatment or recovery period like, do some driving errands, bring over a few meals, or help with household chores.
For more information on managing your stress and reclaiming your life read my book, Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show

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