How Our Words of Encouragement To The Hurting Can Harm More than Heal

(FYI I wrote this post as a draft several weeks before but didn’t realize how well it would apply to all that is going on now)

I spent a lot of time in high school mentoring my peers and young school-aged kids. It was my passion as I not only began to overcome my own trash, but brought a little light in their darkness. There’s something freeing about being there for someone else, taking the time to get your eyes off of yourself.


I didn’t realize how common phrases we throw out can hurt more than they can heal. While the words may sound gratifying and clever and uplifting, they can often sting our hearts. While I often told these say words to others, I didn’t realize the harm until people used them on me. And I was like, “wait a second — that’s supposed to make me feel better?!” In saying that, here are some common feel-good phrases we use and why we shouldn’t be saying them — or how to put them to better use.

You are enough

I hated hearing this phrase when I was struggling at my most. I am NOT enough. I was not enough to pull through. Alone, as blunt and terrible as it sounds, I would have killed myself. I was often selfish and angry and moody. I was not enough to pull through. I need people beside me and for me and walking every day with me. Now as I’m on the otherside, I see value in the phrase, value in knowing that who I was tomorrow does not have to define me, that I don’t have to be anyone else to be happy. But in those dark moments, hearing I’m enough only left me more angry and confused.

I understand.

Unless you have been through exactly what I’ve been through, no you can’t. No matter how hard you try, you can not idenify with someone unless you truly do know. I should never try to make you feel better by saying I understand if that is simply not the case. There is a beauty and freedom in confessing you don’t understand, that you don’t have the answers but continuing to walk alongside them anyway.

You are loved.

Before you shoot me on this one, actions speak louder than words. Are they loved? Don’t just say it — act upon it. Often times we throw out the phrase with purpose, yet it still holds little meaning to the hurting. It’s easier to tweet our your love then show up at a friend’s house at midnight and offer them a shoulder to cry on. It’s easier to pin cute, inspirational sayings and feel you’re making a difference then vow to walk through the good and bad times with someone. By all means, loudly proclaim how loved someone is — but only if you truly mean the words.

Your past does not define you.

Or….does it? Often times we DO let the past define us. Often times it’s on our tail no matter how hard we run. Instead, try your past does not have to define you. Because that IS the truth. It doesn’t have to, yet all too often we allow it leadway into our lives. This is a gentle reminder that we have control over whether or not we will allow our past selves to dictate who we are now and who we have the possibility of becoming tomorrow.

With all that is going on, it’s been hard.

I’ve been struggling to process.

To not feel intense anxiety over what is overtaking my nation.

I wrote this post in hopes that we can lift others up, realizing how much our words as well as our actions go hand in hand. We need to stand together, to admit when we don’t understand, to be okay with not knowing, and knowing that we need each other or we’ll never be able to climb out of the muck.

I’m honestly scared about what’s happening. I don’t know what to expect day to day.

But if we rise, we’re going to have to rise together. We’re going to have to admit when we don’t understand or when we’re wrong and messed-up. We’re going to have to learn to love when it’s hard, be a voice of gentle truth, and walk alongside our fellow brokens.

I think these terrible moments can bring about good change — but we have to allow it to. We have to stop pointing the finger and realize we’re also human. We have learn to forgive even when we cannot possibly forget.

Our words hold power.

As do our actions.

Don’t just speak — act.


3 thoughts on “How Our Words of Encouragement To The Hurting Can Harm More than Heal

  1. Children, particularly very young children, need a lot of positive reinforcement. When they’re not actually hurting themselves you need to tell them how great they’re doing. And when they are putting themselves in danger, you need to steer them gently away from harm.

    Now suppose a child is verbally abused at every turn. Or rarely, if ever, hears a kind word. That abuse never leaves them. They hear disapproval in every silence. They take over in the absence of their abuser to punish themselves. Not for actual wrongdoing, but for merely existing. It’s tragic. But isn’t beyond hope.

    It means something when you receive praise from others. But it can mean more when is comes from yourself. A written journal of affirmation can help tremendously. It can actually help a lot of people if you share it.


  2. I feel as a lot of comments that are positive can be so hard to listen to when we are struggling. I had a teacher that always made an effort to give us pep talks and at the end of it everyone just rolled their eyes, because we didn’t need to hear this all the time. We needed actions that showed this too. Actions over words are powerful but sometimes all we need is someone believing in us for ourselves to believe too.


  3. Yes to all of this post! Even though I fall back on giving words of encouragement, I know that it has been hurtful to me. One of my favorite songs expresses this feeling so beautifully. It’s called All I Can Do (Thank You) by Mikeschair. ❤


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