When someone has gone through something traumatic, it is only natural for their friends and family members to want to sympathize with them. However, telling someone you “understand” is not the right thing to say UNLESS you have actually experienced it for yourself. For example, I lost my sister to suicide. My friends have been good about how they approach the subject with me, but if they were to tell me they understood, it would simply be untrue. While I’m sure they mean well, they haven’t lost their siblings to suicide, therefore, the statement isn’t true. It doesn’t help.
Instead! To empathize with someone, you may say “Hey I honestly don’t know what you’re going through but I can only imagine how rough it is. I’m here for you.” Or “I know you’re going through a lot right now and I can try my best to understand and empathize with what you’re feeling.”
These are a couple of examples of how you can be there for someone, without telling them that you know how they are feeling, if you don’t. It is okay not to understand what someone is feeling, everyone has their own life experiences and unique struggles, but instead we can connect on familiar feelings, similar rough patches in life and just let each other know that we’re here for support. One of the most underestimated expressions is listening and sometimes, it is okay not to have any words, but just knowing they are there for you.