8 phrases to express empathy without making it about you

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“My heart is broken.”

“I know. It hurts me so much to see you hurting. It’s almost unbearable!”

“…huh. I thought I was the one with the broken heart?”

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve just read through an interaction that came from a place of empathy but failed to make the wounded person feel any better.

It’s easy to say, “Just show some empathy.” Much harder to execute it in a way that’s tactful and selfless.

After all, empathy is all about soaking in the emotions of other people, so when one person is hurting, the other might be feeling second-hand heartbreak, too. But no matter how uncomfortable that feeling is, this isn’t about you.

It’s about them.

Here are the 8 phrases to express empathy – without making it all about you.

1) “That must be incredibly hard”

First of all, validation is super important. When someone’s going through a tough time, they don’t want to hear that they should “look on the bright side” or “cheer up”.

Their pain deserves to be acknowledged for what it is. It shouldn’t be ignored, brushed over, or dismissed.

“That must be incredibly hard” is a great way to show that you’re approaching this with understanding and empathy. It means you can see how difficult their situation is.

For many people, that’s more than enough to feel heard and understood.

2) “You’re so strong and brave”

When I was going through a really difficult heartbreak a while ago, my friend told me, “I want you to know you’re so strong and brave.”

And it actually really helped.

Why?

Because it reminded me of my strength and courage. It got me thinking about how well I was coping with the situation – all things considered – and how much progress I’d made since my last breakup.

When she told me I was strong, my immediate thought was, “Hell, yes! You’re right! I’m going to make it through!”

And I did.

3) “Do you want to talk more about how you feel? I’m here to listen”

Sometimes, people just want to talk. And talk. And talk some more.

Personally, talking about my feelings with a friend I trust helps more than anything. But when I monopolize the conversation, I can also feel pretty guilty and hesitate to open up properly.

Which is where this beautiful phrase comes in.

When someone asks you if you want to talk some more about your feelings, they’re essentially inviting you to keep going. They’re saying, “I don’t mind. I’m here for you. I want to hear it all.”

It’s one of the best ways to offer emotional support there is.

4) “The way you feel is completely understandable and valid”

“Am I making sense? Am I overexaggerating? Am I making this into a bigger deal than it is?”

When I was in the middle of heartbreak and doubting all my decisions, I asked questions like this all the time. Was I making a mountain out of a molehill? Were my feelings even valid? Was it all just in my head?

Every time my friends told me that my reactions and decisions were completely understandable, it felt like being brought back down to Earth. The realization that my emotions were all appropriate to the situation offered a lot of relief.

Some friends even said, “I’d feel the exact same!”

That was like music to my ears. Knowing I wasn’t alone in this experience made everything ten times better.

5) “Can I do anything to help you right now?”

You might not always know what it is people need, and that’s okay. Everyone’s different, after all.

While I like to spend time with friends and talk until the early hours of the morning, my sister prefers to retreat into herself and have some space.

While I want to chat about my feelings in depth, my friend just wants a hug.

Therefore, one of the best things you can do for someone is to ask them what they need and show that you’re more than willing to give it if you’re able.

Of course, there is quite a high chance that the person will just shake their head and wave their hand. In that case, it might be a good idea to offer concrete examples they can simply nod to, such as:

  • Would you like some tea?
  • I’m going shopping today, can I get you anything?
  • Would you like some space or would you prefer I stay?

6) “Would you like a hug?”

My best friend asks me this every time I’m feeling down, and I absolutely love it.

Not only is it incredibly respectful – instead of hugging me straight away, she asks me for consent – but it’s also a nice way to offer physical consolation without any pressure.

Some people don’t really want a hug when they’re grieving, and that’s completely okay. Others might crave it more than anything, though. Especially if they can’t find the words to express the depth of their emotions.

In such cases, a hug means more than a thousand words.

7) “I’m honored you decided to share this with me and I’m here for you”

Okay, let’s make an exception – this phrase is a *tiny* bit about you. For a good reason, though!

“I’m honored you decided to share this with me” is a wonderful phrase because it shows how much you appreciate the other person and their decision to open up and be vulnerable.

What’s more, it serves as both praise and encouragement – by expressing just how valuable their choice to confide in someone is, you’re letting them know it’s okay to process their pain with the emotional support of others in the future.

8) “If you need anyone to talk to, I’m here”

This phrase sounds a bit cliché, but it’s a very powerful one – as long as you stay true to your word.

“If you need anyone to talk to, I’m here” is often paired up with a goodbye at the end of interactions, which means that lots of people say it out of politeness more than anything. 

If you really mean it, though, it can go a long way.

To ensure the other person understands you’re not just being polite, try adding something like, “Really, [name]. I mean it.”

And once they actually do reach out, make sure you’re there. Make sure you’re someone they can rely on when they need it most.

That’s the absolute best way to express empathy and offer support.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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