9 ways to express empathy without saying “sorry”, according to psychology

Telling someone you’re sorry to hear about what happened or what they’re going through is probably the simplest way to show you care. 

But once that’s done, the person hurting usually feels like an afterthought. 

People rarely check in again or do something that’s genuinely helpful. 

What’s surprising is that there are so many other things you can say or do to make someone feel less isolated during tough times. 

According to psychology, the best empathetic responses include praising someone’s vulnerability, showing that you care, and regularly checking in. 

So, instead of saying something about how sorry you are for their situation, express sympathy using these phrases:

1) “I can only imagine how hard this must be for you.”

If we’re being honest, no matter how much of a similar experience we’ve had, we can never really know what someone else is going through. 

This phrase acknowledges this while also telling the other person that you might not completely get it, but you’re still there for them. 

It can make someone who’s hurting feel validated and cared for. 

2) “It sounds like you’re going through a rough time. I’m here for you.”

Using a phrase like this is another great way to validate what someone is experiencing. 

For one, it shows that you understand how hard it likely is for them and that however they feel isn’t wrong or bad. This alone can make them feel lighter.

But what this phrase also does is straight out tell the other person that they have support if they need it. 

Hearing this can make them feel like they’re not alone in their struggles – something that’s incredibly helpful for people who feel like they’ve fallen into a dark hole. 

3) “I’m not sure how to help you, but just know that I care.”

They say honesty is the best policy, and when it comes to empathizing with people, this is definitely true. 

Being honest about your uncertainty is much better than saying or doing the wrong things. Phrases like these show that you care and want to help, but you just don’t have the answers. 

Having been through some stuff, I promise these words mean way more than hearing how sorry someone is for what’s happened. 

But if you’re already past this phase and you want to be there for your hurt friend or partner even more, being a sounding board for them is a great idea. 

Here are some ways you can express empathy when doing this – 

4) Listen actively

Paying full attention when someone shares what they’re going through is invaluable. 

Not only does it give them a chance to get all their feelings out, but it also puts you in a better position to help. 

When you really listen to what someone says, you can:

5) Validate feelings

Sometimes, all someone wants to hear is that what they’re feeling is okay. 

There’s probably nothing worse than being sad or upset about something just for someone to tell you that you’re overreacting. 

Validating feelings is a great way to show empathy. And you can do this even when you don’t agree with how the other person feels. 

Everyone experiences life and reacts to things that happen differently. So, there’s a good chance you won’t always understand why they feel the way they do. 

But when you really listen to what someone’s saying, you can still make them feel heard. And a little less silly for feeling how they feel. 

Active listening will also help you…

6) Provide encouragement

You can’t offer the right words of encouragement if you don’t really know what the other person is facing. That’s why paying attention to what they say is so important. 

Let’s say your partner had a really tough time at work because of a co-worker not caring about deadlines. 

If you only heard the first part, you might say that you’re sorry to hear and that the next day might be better. 

However, genuinely listening can help you give encouragement like this:

“I can just imagine how tough that must be. Maybe you could talk to a supervisor to look into your co-worker’s behavior.”

This way, you show that you care about their emotions and are willing to help them find a solution without downplaying how hard it is for them. 

You can even add in that you’re confident in their ability to handle the situation!

7) Share similar experiences

Sharing a similar experience can be a powerful way to express empathy because it shows the person that they’re not alone in what they’re going through. 

It creates a connection and can make the other person feel more understood, supported, and less isolated. 

But not so quick!

Sharing your story isn’t always the best thing you can do. If the situation doesn’t call for it, you might make the person feel like you’re taking the spotlight away from them. 

The importance of active listening comes into play again…

When you actively listen to what someone is saying, you’ll know if they’re looking for advice or just want to unload a bit. 

If they appear upset or overwhelmed, it’s better to hold off on sharing your experience in the moment. Your focus should be on listening. 

Remember: the goal of sharing your experience is to show understanding, not to overshadow their feelings. 

You need to be mindful not to turn the conversation into a competition or make it about yourself

If you’re unsure whether sharing your story is a good idea, ask. 

This gives the other person the choice and control over whether they’re ready to hear similar experiences. 

Now, besides listening, you can also express empathy in these ways:

8) Offer help

When someone’s going through a challenging time, there’s usually a million responsibilities they neglect.

It could be things around the house, errands for their business, or something involving their kids. 

Asking if there’s anything you can help or support them with can make a world’s difference. 

Sometimes, you don’t even have to do anything. You can simply…

9) Be present

Some people like being left alone when processing the harder stuff in life. Others prefer company.

Not necessarily conversations, though. 

Being alone when you’re sad, angry, or grieving can feel extra isolating. So, someone just hanging around usually helps. 

Being present without judgment, no matter what someone else is going through, could mean more than words ever will.

But just remember that everyone has limits. 

Even when someone wants and appreciates you being with them, you should still respect their boundaries.

Natasha Combrink

Nats is a writer who loves creating content for purposeful brands. She enjoys spending time outdoors, crafting, and diving down rabbit holes. After rediscovering life, she wants to help others live to their full potential. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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