How to Express Sympathy: What to Say and What Not to Say?

Sympathy is the expression of your compassion and concern for the deprived. Sympathy stems from a variety of emotions; the basic one being love. They say love is a universal language. Everybody can understand and comprehend the feelings of love. Therefore, sympathy tends to nurture this universal language. You can say whatever you want to make the other person feel relaxed but if it is lacking sympathy, it might not be that effective.

The choice of words matter the most when you are sympathizing with an aggrieved person. Whether you are consoling someone for a loss of his or her loved one, uttering birthday wishes for wife , or even trying to help a sad friend; the words you use matter the most. There is no formal rulebook for ways to express sympathy but there are definitely some globally accepted expressions, which can be very helpful for any bereaved individual.

Let us have a look at ways to express sympathy with words:

  • Express what you feel

    – No human being is alien from different emotional responses. Emotions come naturally when you see an aggrieved person. Those feelings need to be put into words as delicately and compassionately as possible. Say for instance;

‘I feel very sorry for your damage.’

‘This must be hard for you.’

‘I am saddened to learn about your sudden loss.’

‘I know it’s hard for you…..’

The feelings coming from a place of sympathy will certainly improve the overall state of the aggrieved. Remember not to over express what you are feeling while offering sympathy. This might overwhelm the bereaved. Use absolute words in moderation, for instance; ‘I am devastated for your loss.’ Such words, like devastated, might make the aggrieved individual think that you are feeling even worse than him or her. In response, this might incite the aggrieved person to show even more emotion, which might not be good for them. Our aim should be to stabilize the emotions of the aggrieved, not to provoke them even further.

  • Offer comfort

    – Reminding the aggrieved person that he or she is not alone is one of the ways to offer your sympathy. Offering comfort will definitely release some tension off the bereaved individual. One can comfort the pained party in many ways. Some expressions might be;

‘You’ve my shoulder to cry on if that makes you feel better.’

‘My arms are wrapped around you in this difficult time.’

Some individuals get comfortable when they vent and let out their pent-up emotions. Crying, for instance, can help some people to actually feel better afterwards. Hence, you can offer them to open up and sob for a while.

‘You can cry if that makes you feel better.’

‘I am all ears to help you through this difficult time.’

Sit down with the aggrieved after having said the comforting lines, and if he or she is willing, let them open up to you. Once they open up, you just need to listen more and speak less. Speaking out will surely lower their burden and pain. Assure them that you are there for them no matter what. Assurance should be genuine, not just a wordy expression to console the other person.

  • What NOT to say 

    -It so happens that sometimes in order to console an individual, we feel the urge to say more than what is actually needed. This urge to overdo makes us say things which are not actually anywhere near sympathy. The simple formula is not to overthink, i.e. keep the words genuine and as simple as possible. Some common things which should not be said include:

  • Justifying an individual’s loss.
  • Asking a person to ‘relax’ or ‘cheer up.’
  • Any negative comment about the deceased.
  • Bringing religion into everything.
  • Any sarcastic or off-hand remark
  • For the deceased, do not say that they are in a better place.

Apart from the points mentioned above, refrain from using clichés, and do not say such things which destroy the very purpose of consoling. Do not bring in general remarks. These include remarks like:

‘This happened for the best.’

‘I really cannot imagine what you might be going through.’

‘You will be alright.’

‘Time heals everything.’

‘He/she is in a better place.’

In short, imagine yourself in the shoes of the aggrieved party, and think whether the expression you are going to say would’ve had a negative effect on you or not. If the impact of that remark seems negative, do not say it. Better to be sensitive than be sorry later.

  • Some Final Thoughts –

Sympathy is an art that very few can master completely. That does not mean one should avoid being sympathetic. It means one should always look to offer sympathy, especially in grave situations. Offering sympathy can help heal the wounds of the aggrieved. What matters the most is the way you express your sympathy. Therefore, in light of this article you should try to say things that really matter, and avoid the ones that shun sympathy. Who knows your sympathetic approach combined with the right words, might be a shining light for an individual.


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