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by Abigail Van Buren

Three Rules for Offering Sympathy to Others

DEAR ABBY: I am an empathetic person, and because of it, most of my friends and family members share things with me that they are going through in their lives. I feel pain with and for them, and have shed many tears with these people.

Most of the time, this is something I am happy to offer. I understand that not everyone has the same level of empathy or the skills to "be there" when people are going through a rough patch. But right now, I thought it might be good to share some things I have noticed when the roles were reversed and I found myself needing to share with others:

1. It's not a competition! Now is not the time to share your similar experience. Let the person sharing just talk and resist the urge to relate your own stories.

2. Don't try to offer solutions unless they are asked for. The majority of the time, the person just needs to say it out loud to someone, and then they are able to get their head or heart around it and figure things out.

3. Just listen. That's all any of us want. We want to feel heard and important and that we matter. Listening can provide that to the person who is in pain.

Abby, thanks for letting me be heard. Even the strongest friends sometimes need someone. -- LEARNED FROM EXPERIENCE

DEAR LEARNED: AMEN! Life is about learning and growing. There is much wisdom in your letter and a practical lesson for those who sometimes put their foot in their mouths because they only want to help. Thank you for sharing.

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