Have you ever had to console a friend or loved one? Perhaps you were offering stability and backing? Aid, assistance, or support? We’ve all been there. From illness and death to struggles with mental health, everyone needs an ear or a hand sometimes. We all need help and support. But some offers are adverse and detrimental. Some are hurtful and harmful. And some are just plain dangerous. Case in point: The expression “I’m here for you.” Why? Because these words are (in most cases) hollow. Because, too often, these words are empty — a promise destined to be broken. A hurt just waiting to manifest.
They are also compulsory.
People say “I’m here for you” because they’ve been told, either explicitly or implicitly, that it’s the right thing to do. But it is wrong if it lacks meaning, if it is a lie. How do I know? Because I’ve been on the receiving end of these remarks multiple times. I’ve heard them when my parents died and in the midst of a mental health crisis — but when my calls went unanswered, when my texts went ignored and unread, the initial hurt was amplified. I felt isolated and ignored. The silence made me feel worthless, like my experience didn’t matter. Like I didn’t matter, at least not enough. I felt abandoned by people I had believed were my closest confidantes, loved ones, and friends.
Now I know that may sound needy and silly. After all, most people say “I’m here for you” with good intention. These words are meant to comfort and soothe, to make others feel less alone. And while support and empathy are beautiful things — amazing things — there is a difference between empathy and artifice. And that difference may not seem like much, at least not initially, but your silence speaks volumes if and when that person turns to you for comfort or aid. If they need your assistance, ear, or help. It can also be extremely hurtful if you’re going through something serious — a divorce, for example — to find yourself alone, i.e., you reach out but no one answers. You are met with silence, not support.
Plus, as Mila Jaroniec pointed out in an article for Thought Catalog, the meaning of these words varies. Sometimes, when people say “I’m here for you” they mean “I’m here for a while, for an hour or an evening.” Sometimes, when people say “I’m here for you” they mean “I don’t know what else to say but I’m here to process. To sit with you and absorb.” And sometimes “I’m here for you” means “I’m here for you but I’d rather not be, it’s just what you’re supposed to say in these situations so I don’t know.”
Saying “I’m here for you” also puts the onus of asking for help on the person who needs it, which can be problematic — as Redditor usapeaches pointed out in 2012. You’re actually burdening someone with the task of reaching out. It makes the matter more difficult and complex.
That said, there are things you can do to support people — in good times and bad. Instead of saying “I’m here for you” say “I love you.” Reach out. Send texts. Make phone calls. Ask the person how they feel and if they want to talk. Ask others what they need, poignantly and directly. If the situation calls for it, take on specific tasks — like babysitting young children or driving said person to or from doctors appointments or the hospital. Make offers of support you can keep. Drop off a meal. Send dinner. Pick up groceries. Schedule a weekly check-in call. And remember that, if you do say “I’m here for you,” you better mean it, i.e., you better be mindful, present, and listen and know that being “here” is a commitment. It may be a one-time conversation or five.
Still not sure what to say? Try the following expression:
- I’m sorry you’re hurting. I know [insert situation] must be tough. I have some time now. Do you want to tell me how you’re feeling?
- You’re important to me.
- You’re not alone in this.
- I’m terribly sorry you’re going through [insert situation]. Can I pick up the kids from school? What can I do to help?
- Can we go for a walk tomorrow? I’d love to catch up.
- That movie you’ve been wanting to see is on Netflix. Let’s get together and watch it.
- I love you.
- You matter.
- I’m worried about you. Would it be okay if I call/text you at [insert time] everyday, just to touch base?
But please remember that no matter what kind words you offer, if there is any suggestion of material support, as in, you’re saying you’ll show up when they need you, be 100% prepared to follow through. Don’t leave a friend in need feeling alone and abandoned, like some of my supposed friends did to me.