Eavesdropping is a lifestyle for me. If you are out and about talking, I will be listening. If you ever see me, just drop a hilarious one liner and watch me drop my ruse and crack up laughing. Observing human behavior is fascinating to me and eavesdropping never ceases to grant enormous rewards.

Often what I overhear is enlightening and far too frequently I hear a person getting vulnerable, and their conversation partner shutting them down with a simple word or phrase, usually in a fashion that makes it sound like they’re listening and care. In fact, I have a list of ways to shut down an intimate conversation, and I’m here to tell you, they always work.

  1. Saaame!”  It’s a common way of expressing one word solidarity. That confession about your hidden chocolate stash or letting your kids indulge in excessive screen time over spring break, those are the things that shouting “SAAAME” is for. However, far too often, I hear a woman confessing in hushed tones, “My depression feels like it’s spiraling out of control, I’m not sure how to manage it anymore,” just to get “Saaame!” in return. Friends, you just shut down a person who is trying to confess a potential life-threatening condition. I’m here to tell you, it will work, but at such an enormous cost. 
  2. “God only gives you what you can handle.” Oh Lordy. Perhaps this is meant as a compliment, a way of telling your friend that you think she’s strong. Or maybe you’re pointing her to God for help in handling her current predicament, but what she hears is, “If you can’t deal with your situation, it must be that you don’t have enough faith, because if you have faith then God will help you handle it.” Whoa, that’s a pretty big load you just handed a struggling friend!
  3. “I could never handle that!” I suppose this is meant to be a complement as well, but I’m here to tell you, you’re shutting your friend right down. You scooped her up and placed her on a pedestal of being able to handle something that she is trying to confess that she’s struggling with, and saddled her with a burden of assuming she’s capable.

Dear ones, please catch yourselves if you are doing this. If your friend is pouring out her heart, and your response looks anything like what you see above, you are adding to her heartache. Instead pause, regroup, and listen. Ignore your urge to use a simple one word “same,” and maybe confess that you have had a similar struggle, and ask how she’s doing. Rather than assuming God won’t give her more than she can handle, ask how she’s coping or if you can help her handle it, and even if you’re sure you could never manage the situation she’s in, quietly nodding and actively listening is going to be more helpful than a quick, canned response. When I hear these responses, I suspect the listener is struggling with the conversation, and a part of them wants to shut it down. It’s hard to listen when your friend is truly struggling, but it’s the best gift you can give her. Sincere, active listening isn’t easy to do, but it’s exactly what your friend needs. If you can catch yourself and move past the canned response, the gift you’re giving is that of deep, enduring friendship, and it’s the best help you can offer. 

Alethea Mshar

Alethea Mshar is a mother of four children; an adult child who passed away of a drug overdose, one typical daughter and two sons who have Down syndrome, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder and complex medical needs. She has written "What Can I Do To Help", a guide to stepping into the gap when someone you know has a child diagnosed with cancer, which is available on Amazon, and is publishing a memoir titled, "Hope Deferred". She can be found on Twitter as leemshar, and blogs for The Mighty HuffPost as Alethea Mshar, as well as her own blog, Ben's Writing Running Mom on https://benswritingrunningmom.wordpress.com/. She is also on Facebook as Alethea Mshar, The Writing, Running Mom.