DEAR ABBY: I have a very hard time expressing my condolences. I panic and avoid sadness at all costs. I'll give you two examples: My boss's husband died. (I worked for him, too.) Because I couldn't talk to her, I avoided her like she had the plague.
Another time, a close friend's son tried to commit suicide and severely injured himself. Instead of hugging my friend's wife and asking how she was, I waved and went on like I was late for something.
I'm ashamed of my behavior. How can I stop myself from acting like this? -- EMBARRASSED IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR EMBARRASSED: One way would be to ask yourself WHY you're afraid of confronting someone's sadness. Is it fear that doing so will bring you to tears, and you want to avoid the emotion? Because you are feeling shame, I don't think it is lack of empathy.
Being prepared in advance may help you reach out when a condolence is needed. All you have to say is, "I'm sorry for your loss," or, "I'm sorry about what you're going through." In some cases, the person may want to exchange a few words about it, but in others they won't.
Please stop beating yourself up about this. Many people don't know what to say, or blurt out something inappropriate because they're uncomfortable with their own feelings.