Can we build on soccermom's great post about platitudes?
February 2, 2014 1:37 PM   Subscribe

This post has things that aren't helpful. What can you say to someone that is bullied or abused that does help the situation or bolster someone's self-confidence?
posted by BlueHorse to Human Relations (21 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "I believe in you."

Those four words from my grandmother carried me forward when nothing else would. Just knowing that someone actually does believe in you - in your goodness, your courage, your sense - that's big when you're feeling very, very small.
posted by aryma at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: * You are doing all the right things.

* How can I help?
posted by kinetic at 1:45 PM on February 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "You didn't deserve this."

"I'm sorry this happened to you."
posted by quincunx at 1:52 PM on February 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "I'll always have your back in this."
posted by cairdeas at 2:05 PM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If we're not talking about something emotionally scarring, like someone was just being a jerk, it's always nice to hear something like, "What an assh*le! Do you want me to slash their tires or punch them in the nuts?"
posted by kinetic at 2:08 PM on February 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh! This might just be me. But it always makes me feel better when I talk to a kind of crazy friend, and they start to rant about the wild, over the top revenge they would take on this person for hurting me, which a part of me believes they might actually do. "I'll get 10 friends and flip her car over and set it on fire!" "I'll torch an evergreen tree and throw it through his front window and yell "Happy New Year, motherfucker!"

I could see this being supremely unhelpful for a lot of people, but for me, it just makes me laugh and relax about it.
posted by cairdeas at 2:17 PM on February 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I was telling my brother how much I like his girlfriend and also told him that, should they (hopefully not!) break up, "Whatever happens, I'm always on your side", which I think meant a lot to him.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:30 PM on February 2, 2014

This wouldn't help everyone, I'm sure. But it helped me a lot. My grandmother would always tell me, "Nothing lasts forever." It was her way of saying she knew I could get through it. I always took it as a source of strength and confidence in me.
posted by veerat at 2:30 PM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What will help each person is really a matter of knowing the individual and having a sense of how they are doing in that moment.

That being said, I'll second kinetic and quincunx above. And add my own: my dad would tell me "whatever works".
posted by susiswimmer at 2:33 PM on February 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I remember when I was in high school, and upset about something (I don't actually remember what anymore, but it was THE END OF THE WORLD at the time) and I was crying and generally making a fool of myself and the cool teacher (you know, the one who plays in a band in his off time and doesn't talk down to the students and everybody loves (but not in a creepy way)) found me and pulled me aside and told me his two pieces of advice for when life gets you down: 1. Don't sweat the small stuff and 2. It's all small stuff. Not to diminish what anyone is going through, but he pointed out that in the long run, whatever was SO BAD really doesn't matter and life goes on and it usually all turns out okay. Or it doesn't and we deal with that, and life goes on anyway. That helped me.
posted by Weeping_angel at 3:02 PM on February 2, 2014

When I was in the seventh grade, I was being bullied pretty badly by a bunch of different kids. Luckily, the awesome school counselor found out and had me in for a bunch of sessions to talk about how it was affecting me and strategies to cope.

During one of our sessions, she told me something that completely changed my world: that when someone bullies you, it says more about them than about you.

This sounds obvious to adults, but as a 13-year-old kid who had been bullied for a couple of years, this completely rocked my world.

She told me to think that to myself when in situations with my bullies. I started doing just that, and, I swear, the bullying stopped almost right away. Nothing else changed: I was still chubby and nerdy and sensitive. But that thought was like some sort of talisman that communicated nonverbally to bullies that I was no longer to be fucked with.

Throughout the rest of my life, I've continued to struggle with self-esteem, AND I, like most people, have had to deal with bullies, but I've almost never been their target. And I think it's because bullying is really based in fear, and a very fear-based method of gaining control and power. And once bullies can sense that you're onto them, and you know that they are the ones who are messed up, they are less likely to fuck with you, because you're harder to control.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 3:03 PM on February 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Class and fanciness reminded me of another story. My therapist back when I was like, 15 or so, had this thought experiment he tried on me. I had been going on about something along the lines of, "I'm just a meek, quiet person. I hate conflict. I don't have what it takes to be tough. Blah blah blah."

So he said, "Everyone has a warrior within them."

I rolled my eyes and thought that was really stupid and kind of new-agey. But then he asked me, "You know your kid cousins you babysit for? Imagine someone wanted to harm them. Or imagine you're grown up and have children of your own and someone wanted to harm them. What would you do?"

I said, without even missing a beat, "I'll kill them."

And he said, "See, you're stronger than you know. Everyone has a warrior within them."

It sounds really hokey, but it changed my life and I've never forgotten it.
posted by quincunx at 3:16 PM on February 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

I worked as a barman in a rough-ish pub in the Elephant and Castle in South London. It was my first bartending job and I got shown the ropes by a very louche 50ish bartender who drawled, in the most patrician tones imaginable: "The regulars will give you some shit, darling; take their measure, and give it straight back to them."
posted by Sebmojo at 5:30 PM on February 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

You’ve tagged this question with ‘divorce’, so: one thing that tripped me up, in my breakup, was thinking there was something fundamentally wrong with me for staying with someone who’d wronged me; that I might be congenitally skewed, or doomed to repeat history.

Maybe my idea of what love should be was off, and I’d picked the wrong dude, and there were complicated dynamics holding us. BUT: the capacity and desire to love is a strength, not a weakness. (Can't think of a pithy or pretty expression of the idea, though there are thousands, am sure.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:00 PM on February 2, 2014

Best answer: "That really fucking sucks. What an awful thing to do."

Just being with you and feeling it alongside you, without trying to minimize it or look on the bright side or turn it into a lesson. Letting a bad thing just be bad can be more helpful than anything else, in my experience.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:20 PM on February 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

This true story is told by scientist and writer, Diana Beresford-Kroger.

It shows that even a simple heartfelt sentence spoken at the right time to a struggling child can make all the difference.


When Diana was 11, her entire family was killed by a 21-year-old drunk driver.

“I was there filming this summer and it was very emotional,” she said in an interview. “It was really weird for me because my whole family was killed when I was young.

“I’m the last holder of that banner, of that family. They died in a car crash.” She had stayed at home that fateful day.

“I was 11. They were all wiped out by a poor young boy who was 21 and he was drunk driving. When there was a funeral, the poor kid, he started screaming when he saw that I was left. He actually went insane and he’s up in the hospital still.”

She was left, but not entirely alone.....

“When I was 15 I went into a girlfriend’s house in Cork. And the woman was called Mrs. McGee. I waited at the door for her daughter, Betty, and Mrs. McGee shouted at me to stand in the hall because it was raining. And I opened the door and stood in the hall. Mrs. McGee came out and she had eight children and she looked me up and down and she said: ‘You know, Diana, you’re a good girl.’

“That’s the only praise I ever got in my childhood. I hung onto those words. I saw Betty a couple of years ago and I told Betty ‘your mother gave me a really big gift, she told me I was a good girl’ and Betty started crying. She said to me, ‘Diana we had so much and you had so little.’”


The `little` that she had turned out to be enough. She would go on to get a PhD in molecular biology from University College Cork (her hometown), and a diploma in general surgery. An accomplishment all the more notable since she graduated in the 1960s. She is now a Wings Worldquest Fellow and a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society as well as a being a science documentary filmmaker and the published author of six books.
posted by storybored at 9:44 PM on February 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: "I'm on your side"
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:53 PM on February 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

"I've got your back."

Beyond that, it really does depend on the individual. Sometimes the person just needs reassurance that they are okay, and didn't do anything to deserve what happened to them. Some are heartened by offers, however non-serious, to "take revenge" on the nasty person. Others can be cheered up by brainstorming ways to avoid such situations in the future (rare, and risky if it doesn't work, but great for those who have a more analytical mindset). One person's empty platitude is another's empowering mantra.
posted by navizzar at 11:26 PM on February 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

My speech to bullied youth, spoken as a former bullied young person:

This is the time of your life where most people form the habits that make them the people they will be for the rest of their lives. These children who enjoy themselves by tormenting you: they act like swine, and most of them will continue in this habit as they grow up. This means they will have no real friends, as they will surround themselves with others who think it's fun to kick people when they are weak and betray them when their backs are turned. These swine will have to live their lives in the company of other swine and will never know real friendship and all the concrete benefits (in jobs and education referrals and strong mutual support networks) that comes with having good people as friends.

You are a good and smart person and enjoy helping others and value your friends. You will surround yourself with loyal decent humans and will find a loyal decent wonderful smart person to spend your life with. You will continue to encounter swine but will learn to see them for who they are and learn to avoid entangling with them. Your life will be far better than the swines' life as a result.

And years from now, you will look up the swine and find most of them underemployed and divorced or never married, with child support and alienated children or other millstones around their necks, with no real friends and even their own kin sick of their shit. They will be mostly alone and will die that way, full of anger and regret and never really understanding why. Because their younger days, when they were on top and making your life hell, will be the best time of their lives, and they will never feel that good again.

Or they will have grown up and come to understand what they did to you, and will have to look back with guilt and shame on their younger days. And this may be the worse outcome for them, because no matter how well these more aware former swine reform their lives, they will always know what pieces of shit they used to be, and cringe.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 8:58 AM on February 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Re BigLankyBastard's paragraph, that kind of thing doesn't work for me, because when someone bullies me, it's not a consolation that things will go badly for them. I don't wish others harm, that's not in my nature. And also, it's not true. Plenty of people go on to have friends, good jobs, and spouses, even though they are bullies. Every single one of my high school bullies is married with children, and employed. Bullying can cause emotional scars that, ironically enough, make it harder for a bullied kid to do well for him or herself. Life is not exactly fair.

So a decent consolation is actually stuff like, "It sucks, but really the only power you have is to take positive steps for your own life going forward. You can only do what you can do from here. I have your back whatever that is." Then to actually have the person's back, by being there for them in a continuous way and not just one sentence.

What works for me (kind of) is a reminder that it sucks, and like all other people who sucky things happen to, I have a range of options going forward which include a bunch of standard positive steps. That's all I've got, that's all anyone's got. You have to make the best choices you can with what you get, and keep on keeping on.
posted by htid at 7:56 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who replied! This is great. I can see how all the answers would be appropriate in different situations. The ones I marked were short, sweet, and to the point, and so I might just be able to recall them.

Two things:

Sophont kindly pointed out to me that lostinspace was the OP in the post referenced, and soccermom had the first comment. My apologies to lostinspace for not giving correct attribution.

I was slightly puzzled by some comments by posters in the original platitude thread, as I felt they were encouraging. Navizzar said it best. One person's empty platitude is another's empowering mantra.

Susiswimmer's comment makes perfect sense in this context. What will help each person is really a matter of knowing the individual and having a sense of how they are doing in that moment.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:11 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Help Me Jazz up baked chicken breasts!   |   Offered to update a non-profit website and in over... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.