Today, I started thinking about phrases people say that really bug me. "Bug me" is putting it mildly, actually. These are phrases that I hate to hear uttered and that I wish would just go away completely.
The first one that always comes to mind is:
"I know exactly how you feel." A.K.A. "I know what you are going through."
Usually offered as a form of consolation when hearing bad news from a friend.
This phrase really makes me angry. The fact is, no one can ever understand exactly how another person feels in response to a situation even if they were to experience the exact same situation personally. Most of the time this phrase is offered up in cases where the speaker has not even had the exact same experience so it is even more ridiculous. Maybe there has been a similar experience but the odds of it being the exact same are improbable. Even if the experiences are 100% exactly the same, they are still different because they have happened to two unique people who process it in completely different ways.
I'm not so upset when this phrase is offered up to express empathy for an experience with bad customer service, or burning the roof of the mouth, or a million other mundane life occurrences. I am mad when this phrase is said in response to truly grievous, heart-wrenching, painful emotional experiences that stab at hearts and litter lives with tremendous sorrow.
I'm sure I've said this phrase before at some time in my life, but several years ago I made a conscious decision to avoid it. And I wish everyone else would, too.
Instead try: I have had a similar experience and I remember how difficult it was for me. If you want to talk about what you are going through, I might understand some of your feelings.
Or: Skip it altogether and just hug or sit with your friend in silence because it doesn't really matter at that point what you have or haven't been through. Just let people know you love them in the midst of their pain, and don't talk about yourself.