Mental illness can be extremely isolating. Even if you have a supportive network of family and friends, not everyone will understand what you’re going through or know how to help. This can leave you feeling alone and misunderstood.

While not everyone we encounter understands symptoms of mental illness or knows how to give support, here are 3 steps you can take that can help you cope with insensitive comments and to help people understand and empathize:

Step 1: Give It A Name

There is power in naming the type of comment you received. A lot of the time when we are confused by the meaning of a comment, we may dwell on it and give it more energy than it needs. If you can give a name to what is said and what it implies, you feel less confused and know what steps to take next.

There are 3 main categories into which insensitive comments usually fall including: judgment, argument and belittling (JAB). JABS are similar to what people often call “microaggressions.” Now when you feel hurt and confused, you know it is because you have received a JAB. Here are some examples of each–

Judgment – These responses imply that we are weak, wrong or, simply, to blame for symptoms.

  • “You should stop being so negative.”
  • “Do you think maybe you just need to try harder?”

Argument – These comments often happen when someone is focusing on facts and solutions instead of empathizing with our experience.

  • “Well, I told you to join my yoga class.”
  • “You are being irrational. You should just stop those silly rituals and you’ll feel better.”

Belittling – Sometimes someone will minimize our pain by comparing us to someone with worse pain, which implies we should feel bad for “complaining.”

  • “You think you have problems, what about so-and-so who is going through (fill in the blank).
  • “Things could be a lot worse. You are lucky you have a roof over your head.”

Step 2: Give Them A Chance

Once you have named the type of hurtful comment a person has directed your way, you can try to explain to them why it is hurtful. After all, some of the comments are well-intentioned. By being explicit about what we need, we can teach friends and family how to SEE us: by giving support, empathy, and esteem (as in the verb form “to value or recognize worth”).

Here are some examples of what we could ask for and what they could say:

Support – We need to know that we are not alone, and that others feel the same way at times. Even if they don’t feel the same way, we need to know they are still there for us. It speaks to our deep need to belong.

  • “I have felt something similar at times.”
  • “I am here for you.”

Empathy – When people really practice active listening and reflect what we are saying back to us, we feel understood.

  • “It sounds like you are describing agitation and restlessness. Is that right?”
  • “What I think I hear you saying is that the voices say only mean things about you, which makes you feel bad about yourself.”

Esteem – Even when we are feeling bad, we want to be reminded that we are valued, and others acknowledge our strengths.

  • “I feel honored to be here for you. I love you on your good days and bad days.”
  • “You have worked hard on your recovery, and I admire how you keep your sense of humor.”

Step 3: Give What You Did Not Get

Sometimes, we might have the above conversation with a serial “jabber” (or even slip them a copy of this blog post), and they still don’t “get it.” In that case, you will need to accept that you can’t always change other people. Depending on the type of relationship, it might be necessary to get counseling with them, create some distance or remove yourself from their company.

When someone is hurtful to you, go be kind to a different person. So, the next time you get “jabbed,” contact one of your peers or friends and go SEE them. This will change your focus, which is very helpful if you are obsessing about a recent JAB. It is sort of like paying it forward, but you’re giving what you didn’t get, which will help you SEE yourself not as a victim, but as a giver.

How to Cope with Insensitive Comments About Your Mental Health