10 phrases to communicate empathy without saying “sorry”

Ever been stuck trying to show you care, but the word “sorry” just won’t cut it?

Trust me, we’ve all been there.

But it’s not always about saying “sorry”. There are other ways to show we understand and share someone’s feelings!

Let’s dive into 10 phrases you can use instead of “sorry” to communicate empathy.

1. “I can see this is really hard for you.”

First up on our list is a phrase that hits right at the heart of the matter. When someone is going through a tough time, they want to feel seen and understood.

Instead of defaulting to “sorry”, try saying, “I can see this is really hard for you.”

This phrase acknowledges their struggle and conveys that you understand their situation is challenging.

It’s a straightforward, no-fluff way to show empathy and trust me, it can make a world of difference in your conversation. 

2. “That sounds really tough. Can I do anything to help?”

When someone shares a problem, it’s not always about sympathy – sometimes they’re looking for a helping hand.

Saying “That sounds really tough. Can I do anything to help?” shows that you not only recognize their struggle, but are also willing to step up and be there for them.

It’s an open invitation for them to express their needs, making it a super effective phrase to use when you want to show empathy.

Plus, offering help can make the person feel less alone in their struggle, which is always a bonus!

3. “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”

Here’s a phrase that I personally find very powerful – “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”

This one came in handy during a recent conversation with a close friend who was dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Instead of saying “sorry for your loss”, which honestly felt a bit impersonal, I said, “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through.”

It was my way of acknowledging the depth of their pain and expressing that I was there for them.

My friend later said that this phrase made her feel truly seen and understood during a very difficult time.

It might seem like a small change, but it can make a big impact.

4. “It’s completely okay to feel this way.”

This one is all about validating the other person’s feelings.

Sometimes, when people are struggling, they might feel guilty or ashamed about their emotions.

By saying this phrase, you’re assuring them that it’s entirely normal and okay to have these feelings.

Emotional validation is a fundamental part of empathy. When we validate someone’s feelings, we’re essentially saying, “I hear you, and your feelings are important.”

This simple act can significantly enhance emotional health and wellbeing. 

5. “You are not alone in this.”

It’s natural for people to feel isolated when they’re going through hard times. That’s when these six powerful words can make a world of difference.

The beauty of this phrase lies in its simplicity and its ability to reassure.

When you say, “You are not alone in this,” you’re offering a blanket of support, letting the person know that they have someone who is willing to share in their pain and stand by their side.

This isn’t just about expressing empathy; it’s about reinforcing connection and fostering a sense of belonging.

It’s a gentle reminder that no matter how tough things get, they don’t have to face it alone – and knowing that can bring immense comfort during challenging times.

6. “I’m here for you no matter what.”

This one came in handy when my brother was going through a rough patch. He was dealing with some personal issues and was feeling pretty down. I could see he was hurting but didn’t know how to help.

Instead of saying “sorry”, which didn’t really fit the situation, I told him, “I’m here for you no matter what.”

It was my way of letting him know that I was there for him unconditionally, through the good and the bad.

It wasn’t about offering solutions or advice; it was about being a constant, supportive presence in his life.

He later told me that hearing those words made him feel less alone and more understood.

So, remember this phrase when someone close to you is going through a hard time. It’s a simple but powerful way to express your empathy and support. 

7. “This really sucks, doesn’t it?”

Sometimes, there’s just no sugarcoating it. When life throws a curveball, it can truly suck, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

This phrase is raw, honest, and straight to the point. It doesn’t dance around the issue or try to paint it in a positive light.

Instead, it validates the tough reality that the person is facing. It’s you saying, “I see what you’re going through and I agree, it’s really crappy.”

Yes, it might not be the most eloquent way to express empathy, but its strength lies in its authenticity.

It’s a reflection of genuine understanding and shared frustration.

8. “I’m truly saddened to hear what you’re going through.”

This is a powerful way to express empathy as it communicates your personal emotional response to their situation. Instead of just acknowledging their pain, you’re sharing that their pain affects you too.

Feeling distress at others’ misfortunes is a key element of empathy and stimulates a compassionate response.

That’s exactly what this phrase does. It not only expresses distress but also prompts you to respond compassionately.

When someone shares something heavy with you, consider using this phrase. It might just make the person feel more understood and less alone in their struggle.

9. “I really admire your strength and resilience.”

I remember using this with a friend who was dealing with a challenging health issue.

When I said this to her, it wasn’t just about acknowledging the pain she was in, but also recognizing her courage in facing it.

In saying “I really admire your strength and resilience”, I was not only expressing empathy but also paying her a compliment for her bravery.

This didn’t erase her struggles, of course, but it did seem to give her a sense of recognition and validation that she was handling her situation with grace and fortitude.

When you’re in a conversation where you want to show empathy, consider using this phrase. It’s a genuine way to express compassion while also acknowledging the person’s strength.

10. “This is really unfair, and it’s okay to be upset.”

Finally, we have “This is really unfair, and it’s okay to be upset.” This one’s for those moments when life just doesn’t make sense, and it’s not about finding a silver lining. It’s about acknowledging the unfairness of the situation.

When someone’s hurting, they don’t always need to hear that everything happens for a reason.

Sometimes, they just need to hear that you understand their pain, and you agree – it’s really not fair.

This phrase offers that understanding in a raw and honest way.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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