things that backfire

"it's easy" can make scary tasks scarier

When people are struggling or afraid to try something, well-meaning people often try to help them by telling them that the thing is easy. This often backfires.

For instance:

  • Kid: I don’t know how to write a paper! This paper has to be 5 pages long, and we have to do research! It’s so hard!
  • Parent: Don’t worry. 5 pages isn’t that much. This isn’t such a hard assignment. 

In this interaction, the parent is trying to help, but the message the kid is likely hearing is “This shouldn’t be hard. You’re failing at an easy thing.”

If something is hard or scary, it’s better to acknowledge that, and focus on reassuring them that it is possible. (And, if necessary and appropriate, help them to find ways of seeing it as possible.)

For instance:

  • Kid: I don’t know how to write a paper! This paper has to be 5 pages long, and we have to do research! It’s so hard!
  • Parent: It’s hard, and that’s ok. You can do hard things.
  • Parent: What are you writing about?
  • Kid: Self-driving cars. But I can’t find anything. 

And so on.

This isn’t unique to interactions between parents and children. It can also happen between friends, and in other types of relationships.

tl;dr If something’s hard for someone, telling them that it’s easy probably won’t help. Reassuring them that they can do hard things often does help, especially if you can support them in figuring out how to do the thing.



I have a friend with depression who frequently cancels plans or doesn’t message me back, and even though I know it’s because she has a limited amount of emotional energy and not because she doesn’t care about me, I end…

monochromatically said:

This is really spot on!

As the “Debra” in a similar situation last year, I’d say that actually discussing the emotional hurt in a non-confrontational, calm manner is an excellent way to work out new levels of expectation in the friendship.

My friend used to always make plans and want to meet up every day for “girly” best friend activities i.e. shopping trips, dinners out & spa outings. None of which I could find the energy for when my depression was at its worst. Our friendship really suffered. She felt like I was trying hard enough for the friendship and that I was being a bad friend. I felt that she wasn’t trying to understand what I was going through and not being very understanding/ listening to me.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that communication is really important. Sometimes, planning events that don’t take much energy is a good way to still hang out ~ make outings that are close by, easy to get to, and not too long. Maybe try to message her and ask if you could come over to her house for a cup of tea etc. Keep it short and simple, and most of all, communicate clearly.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, communication is important.

It’s also hard. Because sometimes, people think they’re communicating about the problem when what they’re really having is more like this conversation:

  • Cathy: It really hurts my feelings when you can’t do things you’re incapable of doing right now
  • Debra: I’m sorry. I’ll do those things. I don’t know why I don’t. I’ll be a good friend now that I know how much it’s hurting you.

And that conversation just make everything worse, particularly when it happens over and over. 

A conversation that would be better:

  • Cathy: It really hurts my feelings when we make lots of plans that you don’t keep. I feel like you don’t care about me when that happens. Can we figure out a different way of doing things?
  • Debra: I really wish I could still make plans and do those kinds of things, but I can’t do that right now. What if we hung out more online?

tl;dr Talking about feelings can backfire. Feelings are not always the primary problem. When there’s another problem, it’s important to talk about that problem as well as or instead of hashing out feelings.