Stop Saying “I Know How You Feel” Because You Don’t
Normalize not generalizing people’s experiences and emotions
I hate hearing “I know exactly how you feel” when I confide in someone.
It seems like they are trying to make the conversation about them while I’m the one who needs an empathic ear.
I’m also guilty of saying it to my friends and family when they share their burdens and struggles with me. It’s the only way I know how to respond and comfort my loved ones.
As usual, today I complained to my friend about my current life and work struggles. I expected her to say the words I dislike listening to the most.
She stayed silent for a minute and told me:
“I’ve come to realize that every life is a tiny universe. When someone walks you through an incident that happened to them, they can only document the timeline from the start to the end. They can rarely articulate how they felt at each moment it was happening so you can never truly understand what they went through.”
That’s precisely how I feel receiving “I know how you feel” from someone else.
Other people, no matter how close we are, don’t know how I feel because they were never in my shoes.
They don’t always share the same personality, philosophy, or mindset with me and certainly don’t have my exact past experience, which partly contributed to how I react to an event.
So no, they don’t get to say “I know how you feel” to me.
And I don’t get to say that to them.
What I shall do instead from now on
- Make it all about them: “It must have been hard for you”
- Ask if they want to hear my thoughts on the matter
- Better yet, learn to be comfortable with awkward silence and just be there with them
Empathy is not and should not always be verbal.
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