I’m Grieving and You Don’t Know “Just How I Feel”

I’m Grieving and You Don’t Know “Just How I Feel”

By Litza Williams

Many phrases piss off grieving people, but perhaps none so much as “I know how you feel.” Ask someone grieving to list the most annoying things people said to them in their grief. I promise this will often be near the top of the list. Often coupled closely with a similar phrase, “Oh, this reminds me of when (insert their experience here)”.

You would think this phrase is an attempt at empathy, and people probably want empathy in grief, yet this common phrase seems to fall flat. But why? What’s behind this phrase, and why does it ruffle so many feathers?

Understanding empathy

In its most basic definition, ‘empathy Is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. It sounds incredibly easy but anyone who has experienced a loss knows that it suddenly doesn’t feel easy.

Friends who they expected would be there for them are suddenly gone, or rushing them in their grief, saying to be strong, telling them what, when, and how to grieve. These words often leave people grieving feeling like empathy in grief is an impossibility. It feels like no one understands what you’re going through. 

Why shortcuts don’t work 

One of the greatest misunderstandings of empathy is the feeling that we must have a similar experience to someone who is suffering in order to see or understand their pain. We see someone else’s pain and we want them to feel seen. We worry they won’t believe we can truly see them and their pain if we haven’t experienced it.