I suck at comforting people

It’s inevitable that people confide in you with their problems or open up to you when they’re feeling down. And if  my understanding of social conventions and acceptable human behaviours is up to scratch, one is meant to comfort another when someone says “I’m sad/annoyed/angry”.

Some people just have a knack for comforting others and cheering others up, but I’m so socially dysfunctional that I honestly don’t know how to do it effectively and things usually end up turning out very awkward because I come off as insensitive or I inadvertently give the impression that I don’t care about their problems (maybe because it’s true … I’M KIDDING, I do have a soul somewhere). That, or I end up making them feel worse.

So,  I was just wondering … what is the proper approach in comforting someone else? When someone’s having relationship problems, when someone’s pet died, when someone discovers that they’re related to me, etc … what are you supposed to do? What is an effective and socially accepted approach in comforting someone without crossing some kind of line?

I’ve tried out several approaches and made observations when other people are at work in the comforting business and I can find advantages and disadvantages to all of them:

The ‘let’s make stupid jokes in an attempt to make them happy’ approach

I’m a person who tends not to be serious much so I go down this path a lot. This usually begins with me patting them on the back and saying “There there. There there” awkwardly in an attempt to be funny, but somehow it was funnier in my head and I end up with a dirty look from the pattee. I think it’s because every time I do this, I have a Simpsons scene in my head where Homer is in jail for murdering someone (I think) and Reverend Lovejoy comes in and all he can say to comfort Homer is “There there. There. There.” I found the scene hilarious and somehow in my head, I just assume other people will magically know what I’m referring to and find it funny too and forget their problems because The Simpsons is just so awesome! But no, it never goes down like that.

I then proceed to try to find some light in the situation and make a lame joke out of it. Sometimes this will work, but unfortunately most of the time I just come off as being insensitive and having a short attention span. I mean, how was I supposed to know you’re not supposed to make jokes about dead people!! But seriously though, something like this usually happens:

Sad person: “My dog died today.”
Me: “Oh… I’m sorry to hear that. How did it happen?”
Sad person: “Flattened by a steam roller.”
Me: “Oh … well at least you’ll have dinner tonight, eh? Doggy pancakes, mmm mmm!”
Sad person goes offline.
Me: “Hello? Hellooo?”

The “let’s agree with everything they say” approach

Sometime’s you’ll get a situation where someone has been hurt by another person and the hurt person is venting to you about it. You don’t want them to get angrier by taking the other side, so you just agree with everything they say. For example:

Girl: “My boyfriend is such a prick! He told me he would call but he didn’t!!”
Me: “OMFG WHAT A JERK!!! I TOTALLY AGREE, HOW COULD HE DO THAT TO YOU. YOU CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER”

I like this approach because it empowers the other person into believing that they’re right and superior, and honestly, who doesn’t feel good when they think know they’re better than everyone else? I also like it because I don’t have to do much other than nod and say “I know!”

The only thing I don’t like about it is when I know the other person is being completely irrational and feel compelled to humour them, which brings me to the next approach.

The “try to rationalise the problem and make them see things from another perspective” approach

I’m just a natural troll so sometimes I like to argue with people just for the sake of it. So naturally, when someone is upset about something I might try to challenge why they’re upset about it and try to make them see the other side so they can see how silly they’re being, causing them to be un-upset. So it might happen like this:

Girl: “OMG my boyfriend is such a prick! He told me he would call but he didn’t!”
Me: “Aren’t you being a tad clingy? He might have a perfectly good explanation. His phone might be dead. Or he might have the plague. Or, how about you call him and stop bitching?”

Sometimes it’ll work, but usually I end up getting into some long-winded argument as they feebly try to convince me that I’m wrong. Either that, or they will get annoyed that I’m not being supportive enough of them. And then I end up getting annoyed because I’m just trying to help and it just gets thrown back in my face. That, or they don’t find my help very useful.

The “I’m going to say a bunch of cheesy/philosophical stuff to make myself seem sensitive” approach

There are some issues that you have to make it seem like you’re sensitive about. Such things include death or break ups. Therefore, people often spew out random philosophical or insightful stuff in order to try to come off as the strong person. You know what I’m talking about, the whole “They’ve gone to a better place”, “I understand how you feel”, “These things happen so just try to be strong” type things.

When I try to do this, it usually comes off as extremely cheesy and I feel kinda dirty afterwards. And I think I kinda give off a very snobby kind of attitude but hey, the point is trying to be strong for someone when they’re at their weakest point, right?

This approach might also involve empathy. But the danger of this is that you get too carried away about talking about yourself and crap on and on about how you felt when that same thing happened to you, when I’m pretty sure the other person doesn’t give a crap about you since they kind of have their own problems at the moment.

Personally, I kind of hate it when people try to make me feel better by telling me their own life story about how they went through the same thing – yes, that’s great that you felt suicidal when your goldfish died but how does that help me? When you’re upset about something you don’t care if other people know how you feel because that doesn’t help you at all. Thus the whole “I know how you feel” line is rendered useless because the only response you might get is “Okay”.

Anyways, I’m going off an a tangent. Ultimately, I suppose the best way to cheer someone up is to buy them things. I mean, everyone likes ‘things’, right? Material objects are the perfect way to fill emotional voids in your life!

More stuff I say

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About lildoro

I'm a uni student who procrastinates way too much. I like saying stuff about things.

Posted on November 28, 2010, in Mindless Dribble and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. i like hugs =P

    but if i found out i was related to you i dont think it would help…

  2. I just want you to know, that this has made my day. Finally someone understands my difficulty in cheering people up. I identified with this post 200%

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