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Today’s article comes to us from Blake Blankenbecler, a licensed therapist out of Charleston, SC, specializing in friendships. 


Modern friendships don’t come with a manual. Maybe you’ve realized as you’ve gotten older that friendships have gotten more complicated, as friends face a variety of life’s hardships. Should I say something? Or nothing? Should I try to make them feel better, or just keep listening? This article highlights a few phrases that can be potentially toxic to friendships and offers ways to approach the conversation differently, so you can show up for your friends in a way that truly supports them.

You’ve likely been here before. You’re sitting across from a friend, and you decide to go beneath the surface to share what’s really going on in your life.

  • “We had a miscarriage.”
  • “I think I’m depressed.” 
  • “I lost my job.”
  • “We’re getting a divorce.”
  • “My Mom’s cancer is back.” 
  • “I can’t believe I’m still single.” 

Before you finish your sentence, your friend jumps in and starts throwing out all sorts of positive platitudes.

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “I’m sure you’ll be back on your feet in no time!”
  • “That happened to my third-grade friend’s Mom, and she’s totally fine now!” 

If you’re like me, this is where things go blurry as you realize that, while you may not have known precisely what you needed from your friend by telling them your truth, their misattuned words leave you feeling even more alone.

Change the scenery to the break room with your coworker, a crowded coffee shop with a childhood friend, or a wine bar with a girlfriend — I can tell you these conversations are happening all the time. Unfortunately, these seemingly innocent phrases you or your friends use to try to make each other feel better are doing the opposite. And they are causing some serious hurt.

Businesswomen talking while having coffee at a coffee shop.

Offering support to your friends can unknowingly be counterproductive. Read on to learn some of the phrases to remove from your conversations.

Now, I fully stand behind the notion that 99% of us do not wake up and think, “How can I hurt my friend and leave them feeling unsupported today?” So, please do not beat yourself up if you’ve said a few of these phrases to friends before. Navigating healthy adult friendships is largely uncharted territory, and we could use all the support we can get.

So let’s talk about the seven most common phrases that are hurting your friends, why they are hurtful, and what you can say instead.

1. “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

This is known as invalidating someone’s emotions in the therapeutic world, but you don’t need to know the clinical term to know that when this happens, it hurts. When your friend shares something hard, even if their feelings don’t make sense to you, it’s important to let your friend know you hear them and their feelings matter.

Try saying this instead:

  • “Tell me more. I want to know what this has been like for you.”
  • “I’m so sorry. This sounds really tough.”

2. “No offense, but …”

Saying “no offense” does not, in fact, offer you carte blanche to say something offensive and then expect your friend not to be offended. I hear this phrase used a lot after a breakup, where a friend reveals they didn’t think the person someone was dating was good enough for them. Not only is this not the time to share that information, but it’s also putting your friend on the defense and neglecting the care your friend needs from you.

Try saying this instead: 

  • “Breakups (or whatever hard thing) hurt so much, and there’s no easy way to walk through this, but know I’m here for you.”
  • “I know how much this mattered to you. Of course this isn’t the ending you wanted.”
Mother hugging her adult daughter in the park.

Toxic positivity? No, thanks. A hug? Bring it on.

3. “Everything happens for a reason.”

Trying to jump in and help a friend make sense of a tragedy with a statement like this is usually more about your own discomfort with tolerating challenging emotions than what your friend is walking through. Take it from a therapist who hears heartbreaking stories — some things will never make sense. In times of great distress, you don’t need to help your friend find the silver lining; your job is to be present with them.

Try saying this instead:

  • “This is awful, and I’m so sorry this is happening.”
  • “I’m with you, and I’m not going anywhere.”

4. “Try to stay positive.”

Toxic positivity does not only not help, but it also can lead to more heightened feelings of shame and isolation … something you don’t want to do to your friends! It’s no secret that gratitude and positivity play an important role in your mental health. However, when you push a friend to get there earlier than they are ready for, it can communicate that their feelings are too much for you to handle.

Try saying this instead: 

  • “What do you think is most supportive for you right now? I’m here to help with them.”
  • “I know this is a tough season for you. I want you to know you’re not alone in this.”

5. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I like to call this phrase an apology that’s not actually an apology. It lacks taking responsibility or possessing curiosity for how your actions or inactions might have played a role in the rift between you and your friend. A sign of emotional maturity in your friendship is being open to hearing how certain things you do or say affect your friend.

Try saying this instead: 

  • “I hate knowing you’ve been feeling this way. What can I be more aware of to make this better between us?”
  • “Thank you for sharing this with me because I want you to feel supported by me.”
Women smiling and embracing while standing on the street.

Friendship is about grace, growth, and giving each other a healthy platform for conversation.

6. “You should do this …”

Sometimes you just need a good vent session where you get to let out all of the current annoyances and worries living rent-free inside of your head. Being given unsolicited advice can really put a damper on the whole letting it out vibe. Communicating to your friend that you aren’t looking for advice and just need to vent can be helpful here. Alternatively, if you’re a friend listening to your friend vent and you’re confused about what they need from you, just ask.

Try saying this instead: 

  • “Do you want me to listen and be with you in this, or would advice be helpful?”
  • “Do you want to know what I would do in this situation?”

7. “At least …”

To end with the pièce de résistance of phrases you and I would do well not to use, it’s the phrase, “at least…” What follows these two seemingly innocent words are invalidating and hurtful sentiments about how things could be even worse or that others have it worse off than you. When a friend shares something hard they are walking through, your role as their friend is not to compare their pain to someone else’s; it’s to hold space for your friend and offer them compassion and care.

Try saying this instead:

  • “I know I can’t fully understand what it’s like to be in your shoes, but I want to try to understand to support you in this.”
  • “I’m so sorry you’re going through this, and I’m grateful you shared this with me because I don’t want you to feel alone.”

If you realize that you have said some of these phrases and may have caused some hurt, here’s some good news: You can apologize to your friend and repair the damage with them. And if your friend has said some of these phrases to you, you can also share that it hurt your feelings. Good friendships aren’t perfect and don’t need to be. The healthiest friendships are those with an openness to talk about what isn’t working and get back on the same page about what is working.


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About the Author
Blake Blankenbecler