Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Who Benefits From Finding Silver Linings? You'll Be Very Surprised.

I am not a violent person.

In fact standing on tiptoes at 5'0, 
I avoid conflict if possible, speak quietly and generally try to look positively at the world. 


............... I have got to a point, where if someone gives me one more "silver lining" response to a tough moment, I may have to take them out with a punch! 

It would probably be a disaster - not because the perpetrator would be seriously injured, but because I would either miss my target or hurt my hand more than their body. 

Being offered silver linings during a challenging time is like giving someone with a food allergy, the one food they cannot have.

You know the kind of comment..........

You: I have just broken my foot.
Them: Well at least you'd put in for a vacation any way.

You: My parent just died suddenly. 
Them: Well thank goodness he/she didn't suffer.

You: My child's just been diagnosed with a painful, chronic illness Them: Well at least it's not life threatening.

You: My spouse just lost his job.    
Them: Well at least you've got your health.

 I have been thinking a lot about finding silver linings. I wrote about the silver linings when a giant fir tree fell in our back yard. I have certainly seen that all the illnesses we have dealt with, have been lined with lemonade moments, but I didn't necessarily see those positive outcomes straight away.

A chaplain friend of mine explained to me that she learned during her pastoral care training, that making lemonade out of lemons is   never a strategy to be used as a comfort. Silver linings are not something to be offered as a balm to the wound.


Because the silver lining comment benefits only the person giving it. Not the recipient whom it is meant to comfort.

This makes so much sense. The person giving the silver lining is comforting themselves, but it is of no use to the one suffering.

Particularly at the beginning of a trauma, illness or crisis, taking in the new information about a life altering situation, is a process. 

Our brains need to rejig in order to assimilate the new information that often comes at alarming speed. Offering silver linings at this time is extremely unhelpful. 

This is a process that takes a unique amount of time for each person. It is the distance someone has to travel emotionally and mentally from what was, to their new normal. Somehow our brains manage to do this and what was overwhelming at first, becomes manageable.

Manageable.Yes. Easy. No.

Five years since my son Benjy was diagnosed with a heart condition that can cause sudden death, I understand now how lucky we were to discover it. 

I am incredibly grateful that  the anesthesiologist who was about to put Benjy  to sleep for a colonoscopy, alerted me to his irregular EKG. 

I know how incredibly fortunate we were that Dr Berul, one of the best pediatric electrophysiologists, in the country, had just taken a job at The Children's Hospital in DC. 

I get that the second surgery on Benjy's heart was surgical skill at its finest and Dr Berul 100% cured him without any damage and we no longer worry about his heart health.


Now I can look back and see all the silver linings. But seeing them has been on my time frame, with my frame of reference and my choice to look at the situation that way. 

Silver linings can be particularly challenging to see, when you are living with a stressful, relentless situation, lack of sleep and unpredictability, such as 

- a parent or spouse with Alzheimer's
- a cancer diagnosis or resurgence
- grief for a spouse or child
- a marriage breakdown
- a child with significant long term medical, social or educational needs.
for example.

This week I found 2 quotes that I felt were comforting and supportive for those particularly difficult situations and tough days. 

Days when you can't see or hear or tell yourself about the silver linings, but need something to help you put one foot in front of the other.

So if you want to bring comfort to someone who is in a tough spot, please don't offer them a silver lining. 

Instead listen carefully, validate honestly and give them a hug

Your actions might be the one silver lining in their day. (Just don't tell them that!) 

Let me know what helps you most when you are going through difficult times. What's the worst thing anyone has said to you at one of those moments? Please leave me a comment and share the post if it resonated with you..

Many thanks


Please email me at gilly@bringingbooksofcomfort.org or leave a comment on this post below. I'd love to have your feedback. 

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  1. Love this, Gilly. How I dislike lemonade makers....

  2. Thank you! If someone tells you what to think by offering silver linings as a response to your situation,they have not understood that you may feel differently from them. A more empathic response involves less talking and more listening! Gilly

  3. As usual, Gilly, you are spot on....thank you for putting into words why this rubs me the wrong way. Empathy and the listening ear are golden!!

    1. Thanks Marie! It's ok ( and more supportive) to say " I don't know what to say, but I'm here to support you. " when someone is going through a very challenging time.Rather than try to find a silver lining or to try to offer solutions, this kind of response is a good start to finding out what will help the person most.

  4. Thanks for this post. I find myself falling into the silver lining trap even when others don't do it for me. I'm assuming that people don't want to hear about the bad times so I talk about positive results and improvements and good prognoses. I need to trust other people's genuine empathy more and not worry about finding a silver lining that I only think they are waiting for me to provide.

  5. Spot on. To listen, empathize and hug are generally what is called for.
    The only possibly useful reference to lemonade making is recognizing and applauding when the person in distress finds a way to make it in their own.

    1. Yes! I think applauding a conclusion,action or silver lining the person in distress has come to is very different from pointing out silver linings you have thought of. In the situation where you reiterate how they feel, you are meeting the person where they are in their journey. That is validating THEIR thinking and lemonade making: a supportive and thoughtful response. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Gilly

  6. Thank you for explaining why you find yourself looking for improvements and results. Some people may be up for that, especially if you are very close to them and have already listened and validated their fears and concerns.But I think that's the point. What do you say first and what do you save for another time if at all?

    It can be very uncomfortable to sit with someone's grief,anxiety or crisis and that is often why we try to find solutions or silver linings. They will find those in time, but acknowledging what they are going through and expressing your concern and support will bring them a lot of comfort. I don't think you need to feel you have to have all the answers. Your presence ,genuine concern and readiness to support are the real gifts!
    Many thanks for stopping and leaving a message. I appreciate your thoughts. Gilly

    1. The comment above was a reply to guiltyfeat ( love the name!)

  7. I am so happy to have found your blog. I am an American (from Boston), lived in London 2006-2012, moved to DC in Aug. 2012 and am still adjusting. Although I haven't moved as often as you I identify with many things you write about. My 4 children, aged 2,8,11, and 13 when we moved to London, grew up there. They are now 21,19,15, and 10. Kind of third culture kids.

  8. Lovely to meet you! I'm very glad you came to visit and left a comment.
    It would be interesting to compare notes with you about our inverse experiences and common ground when raising children in countries we did not grow up in. Are your children glad they lived abroad? How was it for the teenagers making an international transition? I have found that, on the whole the members of the family who have a structure to slip into -school or work, when moving acclimate more quickly. What has been hardest for you? The hardest part for me was managing our expectations about how quickly everything would fall into place. I really think it takes a full 3 years to feel truly at home in a new place, particularly after an international move.
    Please keep in touch and feel free to email me at gilly@bringingbooksofcomfort.org if you would like to chat some more.

  9. I loved the part you mentioned about how silver lining is meant to comfort the person saying the comment! I really can identify with that.. i get really stressed in situations of tension or where i have to support someone in sorrow! and the piece you shared about being grateful...oh just beautiful! thanks! Passed by through the link up..but really enjoyed ur post

  10. Thank you so much for visiting Marwa. It can feel very stressful to try to comfort someone in distress. You don't have to have all the answers. Being with them and listening carefully are great gifts you can offer. Hope you will come by again.

  11. This is all soo true! Fantastic quotes too. Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment Julie. Yes I think these 2 quotes are 'fridge-worthy' !