How to Write an Empathy Card
So you've bought a card, or you're thinking of buying one. But you have no idea what to say. Don't worry - writing cards can be difficult at the best of times. Add in the fact that you don't really know what the recipient is going through, or what words will even hit the mark.
For this very reason, I have developed a short guide that should start you off. It is a practical guide, indicating what your intentions should and should not be, plus some suggested statements to convey the right message.
You can find a slightly more detailed version of this guide on our website here.
Overwhelmingly, people want validation. They want people to tell them that it's okay to be depressed, anxious or overwhelmed.
Statements such as, That sounds very difficult, No wonder you're feeling so overwhelmed and It's okay to feel that way - there is nothing wrong with that both acknowledge and validate another person's pain.
Less 'I', More 'You'
This is not about you. This means not discussing yourself, how the situation impacts you, what you can offer or what you have been through.
Your discussions should lean towards the one in need. What can I do for YOU? What do YOU need? YOU are so strong. YOU are doing a great job. I know this is challenging, but YOU will get there.
Use Inclusive Language
Words like 'we', 'us' and 'together' go a long way. Remind them that you are there for them, no matter what, you will be helping to lift that weight off their shoulders.
Statements like We can get through this together, We can do this and You've got us every step of the way will show them that you care and that they are not alone.
Don't Be A Fixer
Fight your inclination to lecture, give advice or offer solutions because, ironically, it doesn't always help. Usually it results in them feeling more invalidated and less understood. Of course, if someone is asking for you to help them, or they are asking for advice - please help them. But if they just want someone to listen, be that person for them.
If you're writing a card, statements like I'll sit with you and listen, I wish I could help you, but I can listen to you if you need or I'm here if you just want to vent will show this intention.
Positivity Isn't Always Best
Be careful not to appear to invalidate by suggesting that what they're going through is a phase, or will pass.
Avoid telling them how great their life is by trying to show them that they have so much to be happy about. This is almost universally acknowledged as the worst way to try and support someone.
Instead, don't be afraid to say Yes, this is a really hard time for you or This sucks, is there anything I can do?
Remember, writing an empathy card should elicit pathos and understanding. Tell them you are sorry they are going through a tough time. Offer to be there for them. Acknowledge their pain and reassure them that you will be there every step of the way. See your card as an invitation; you are inviting them into your support and care and letting them know that you are there for them when they are ready.