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Reflections: Why People Shy Away From Bad News…

11/06/2012

“Never awake me when you have good news to announce, because with good news nothing presses; but when you have bad news, arouse me immediately, for then there is not an instant to be lost.” Napoleon Bonaparte

Reflections: Why People Shy Away From Bad News…

Reflections: Why People Shy Away From Bad News… Or How We Handle Other People’s Grief.
Years ago, I had a friend who was always eager to share the events of her life; good and bad. While, in our circle of friends, we understood that life throws us all many curve balls, good and bad, she didn’t quite grasp the concept. You see, she had no qualms sharing her Debbie downer stories but she took umbrage anytime anyone else shared a sad or distressing story… “Please enough with the negativity… I don’t want to be tainted by bad news stories… Go tell someone else!” Tainted? She believed, like some others do too, that being around bad news or even around anyone who has experienced it would somehow transfer the experience to her. Of course, common sense makes it highly unlikely that my bad news will become your bad experience… but some people believe this.

“Nobody likes the bringer of bad news” Sophocles

When a good friend of mine lost a child some years back, there were friends who simply walked away and stopped talking to her. I found the behavior both strange and painful. Why would anyone choose a dark period in a friend’s life to disappear? As someone explained it to me, “Perhaps they didn’t know how to comfort her or it brought back sad memories of their own…” Perhaps. But wouldn’t a simple expression of condolence, “my sympathies to you and yours” suffice, even if we can’t find the emotional strength or words to share? We all experience loss during our lifetime; eventually culminating in our own demise and so to shy away from the subject or from those who are hurting makes no sense at all. I can understand the sense of overwhelm, but walking away is unconscionable… with no apologies given.

“Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.” Colin Powell

Reflections: Why People Shy Away From Bad News…

What other factors contribute to this behavior? I haven’t seen specific research on shying away but I’ve read plenty on handling grief/coping with grief and what stood out is that people do respond to grief in different ways; we have coping mechanisms that we use to handle bad news. These coping mechanisms cover the emotional spectrum from numbness, anger, bitterness, deep sadness, gratitude, and feigned indifference, to an eagerness to get back to normalcy. In a Washington Post article, Christopher Davis, a professor of psychology, shared how he conducted a research study in which he and colleagues interviewed the 52 surviving family members, including 11 widows of 26 coal miners who died in a terrible accident. They found three coping methods in the group: Mullers (looked for positive lessons from their loss), Chronic grievers (rehashed events and stories) and Copers (believed that bad stuff happens and get over it). Assuming we fall in one of these three categories, our reaction to other people’s loss might trigger a specific response or, in some cases, none at all. Those who shy away might fall in the Copers group, and, if an event doesn’t affect them directly, adopt a stance that says “Hey, stuff happens! No comment.” The other extreme is what we see on the internet when trolls, hiding behind anonymous handles, write nasty things about a tragic loss.

“He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.” Bertolt Brecht

Reflections: Why People Shy Away From Bad News…

In Bill Urell’s 10 Ways to Handle Grief , one of his suggested tips is to Blog about your experiences or write a diary. Writing about a painful episode can be cathartic for both the writer and those who knew the deceased up close. Honoring the deceased and sharing facets of their life can help with the healing process. Since we live in a world that is increasingly internet driven and public, we can no longer avoid public expressions of grief; especially if the loved died tragically in a public event. Now, in conversations I have had, some people feel that airing such news is in bad form; grieving should be private… Perhaps. I think that position is more to allay their discomfort with the whole thing. Furthermore, it is not scientifically proven that grieving privately makes us feel any better any sooner, so I beg to differ. I am more inclined to say grieve as you honestly feel and move forward only when you’re ready… which most of us eventually do; not when others expect/advice/think you should. Could there be a cultural component to this subject? More below!

“Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news.” William Shakespeare

Reflections: Why People Shy Away From Bad News…

How People Handle Bad News…
Could there be a cultural component to this subject? From an anecdotal perspective, I’d say yes. But it does also depend on how a community or individuals in a community celebrate life/death. I would say that how death is handled in different cultures, impacts how people react to such bad news too. If viewed as frightening, morbid, and dark, then the expectation is to dispense of it quickly, talk less about it, and carry on as if all is copacetic asap; unless it’s a global event. When someone I knew died in the West, the mourning period and funeral was quiet and ordered. Everything happened like clockwork from the moment they were pronounced dead to the moment they were interred. Tears were shed, everyone wore black, a few tributes made and then a simple meal shared and everyone left… life carried on. Don’t get me wrong, there was reverence for the deceased but it was quite muted. Some shy away because they view the process as clinical and private.

“I thought about dying whenever I got bad news about other people.”  Jonah Lomu

On the other hand, in the East, or specifically in Nigeria when a loved one died, the funeral was an event that occurred over many, many days. The Umu Ada (mourning ladies) came and camped out in the family compound. Special outfits were sewn and t-shirts made with the face and title of the deceased emblazoned on it. Extended family members had specific fabrics chosen for them and made into outfits so everyone else knew who the deceased’s relatives were. On the day of the funeral, the immediate family wore white. In some societies, like those that celebrate Day of the Dead, funerals are seen as both a mourning and a celebration of life. There is no shying away from the news or from sharing stories of the deceased, and families make an effort to give their loved one what is often called a final “send-off!”

“To the old, the new is usually bad news.” Eric Hoffer

Reflections: Why People Shy Away From Bad News…

When 9/11 happened, it had an enormous impact on an entire nation; particularly on all who lost a loved one and on all of us who witnessed the Twin Towers collapse in NY. Everyone wanted to talk about it; to share a story of where they were, how they felt, and who they knew amongst the thousands that perished that day. In my college classrooms, my students and I set aside course assignments and grieved over those who died. We didn’t hold back and I encouraged every student who felt like sharing, to do so. The sharing helped us all to express our pain and begin the slow process of healing. Perhaps because that event had a powerful effect on the collective, on all of our hearts, it was hard to shy away from delving into the news and speaking openly about it. Why didn’t we shy away from that news? Some might have, but the majority of us could relate to the enormity of that tragedy, empathize, and see ourselves in the eyes of loved ones left behind. Sadly, some shy away from bad news because they can’t empathize or simply don’t care. What do you think?

What are your thoughts? Do you shy away from bad news? How does it make you feel? Do you wonder why some friends are unreachable when bad things happen? How do you react to other people’s bad events? What helps you handle bad events in your life? Do share! Thank you. 😉

Please bear with me as I continue to catch up on your blogs and commenting… Thank you all for your patience! 🙂

Positive Motivation Tip: Bad news happens to everyone… Don’t walk away from a chance to comfort someone. Cherish it!

PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: All photos El Tren, Ofrenda, Catrinas, Sudangee, Angel, via Wikipedia and/or via Flickr

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank
Mirth and Motivation
Positive Kismet

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53 Comments leave one →
  1. 12/06/2012 5:57 am

    I sometimes think I am one to not get lost in emotional sensitivity when experiencing lost or pain. Just for a moment does it rise to the occassion. Then internal silence.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:14 pm

      I hear you and get the internal silence… which happens to those mourning more than to those observing. Great point. TY!

      Like

  2. Bree permalink
    12/06/2012 6:24 am

    This is a remarkable post with research and interesting points made. I think because we are so plugged in to social media, it has created this illusion of friendships that really don’t exist. People do what is expedient and move on. They miss the point, they rush, they care less because they are careless and then there are the unrealistic expectations we have of each other. Don’t despair. Keep writing and focus on what truly matters. The rest comes and goes.
    B

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:16 pm

      Yes, thank you… It helps to push past the morass and go back to what matters. I agree that we can’t expect more when it isn’t there to begin with…

      Like

  3. 12/06/2012 7:39 am

    These are very interesting points, Elizabeth and I do think it is at least partly cultural. In Ireland we have a lot of flaws but we deal quite well with death still. But even so in general I do think there is a fear around sadness and grief – almost as if it is contagious. When my kids say they don’t know what to do when they meet someone who is in grief, I always tell them that it doesn’t matter what they say, they don’t have the power to make the grief go away with their words but the fact that they make contact with the person will be enough. I also tell them to remember that in those circumstances they might be uncomfortable but the other person is in pain. In modern, Western cultures we see pain and suffering as failure and are often cut off from our own deep pain which means we want to avoid the pain of others because it evokes our own pain.
    Sorry for the long comment!!!!

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    • 17/06/2012 4:17 pm

      “In modern, Western cultures we see pain and suffering as failure and are often cut off from our own deep pain which means we want to avoid the pain of others because it evokes our own pain.” This is spot on and I couldn’t have said it better. TY!

      Like

  4. 12/06/2012 8:58 am

    This is really thought provoking and well written. It makes me think how “draw the Blinds” on what is unpleasant. That bit about the person no longer talking to their friend whose baby died was difficult to read. Great Post

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:18 pm

      TY and that part makes me sad still… I get some of the reservation, but there is a line where the behavior crosses into cruelty.

      Like

  5. 12/06/2012 9:31 am

    Grief is so personal. Everyone deals in their own way and in their own time, but to have no empathy or compassion is sadder still. Loss is never joyful and it is often hard to know what to say, but to ignore someone in pain is to be no friend at all. I believe we learn who our true friends are when we go through grief or trauma.
    Great post!
    b

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:22 pm

      TY Barb and I agree that is true… Sadly,it is not the best way to learn who our enemies or haters are… but that is life. 😦

      Like

  6. Freedom, by the way permalink
    12/06/2012 11:54 am

    Intriguing topic. My take? True friends stick close during personal tragedy…and stay long enough to see the sun rise with you. Because it always does rise.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:24 pm

      And the sun rises if we believe it will… If we stay present with the good moments, then slowly the poison of the bad moments fade away…

      Like

  7. 12/06/2012 1:09 pm

    Oh Elizabeth, there’s so much here.
    You know, when I heard about your loss, I thought of a friend who died in the Air France crash. As I looked at your sister’s site, I was surprised how raw I still felt but it made me want to reach out and give you a hug and tell you how sorry I was to hear.
    I lost my mother, suddenly, some years ago and people said all kinds of things to me, “She’s in a better place or I know how you feel.” It made me so angry that they’d presume to know how I felt or that I was comforted that she was in a better place. But I swore I’d never say that to anyone else. I’m sorry was more than enough.
    Some people here still keep some of the old rituals. Friends and family gather at the home of the deceased almost every night prior to the funeral. There’s sharing of stories, eating, drinking, domino playing, and dancing. It’s a special dance with special songs. The musicians would play rudimentary “instruments” bottles, graters, pot covers, etc. I’m convinced that when my mom died, the dancing was what helped me the most with my grief.
    The night before the funeral there’d be a large celebration with food, music, dancing, etc., and if the family wanted, the band would return of the day of to escort the casket to the church and then to the cemetery for the burial.
    Of course, all of this can get expensive so some people limit or just do the essential, like maybe just have some kind of gathering the night before.
    When I was growing up, it was the norm that once there’s a death, people would gather at the deceased’s home every night and again on the 9th night after the burial, the 40th and even the 100th night as well. I doubt many people do that anymore though.
    Years ago, I did a weekend grief ritual with Sobonfu Some. It was one of the most powerful rituals I’ve ever been a part of. One of the things I remember her describing how they deal with grief in her country, the place it has in the society and its importance to the healing process.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:27 pm

      TY Marcia for sharing so honestly too.. My condolences for your friend… and I love your thoughts on your mom and the many ways the dead are celebrated . I think if more of us embrace the celebratory sharing and open our eyes to the beauty of honoring the dead, then our attitudes might shift too.

      Like

  8. 12/06/2012 1:15 pm

    I can relate to the classifications of mullers, grievors and copers. So far I seem to be a coper although with the deaths of my closest family members there sure was a period of mulling. Everyone who needs to grieve must be allowed to do it in whatever way works best for them. Blogging about it may not be my own style but for those who do it, and I have read a few, it seems to work as there are kindred spirits who do respond. thanks for a great post! I love learning about other rituals.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:29 pm

      TY and I agree that each has his own way and it should be respected… Yes, I am learning a lot from this too.

      Like

  9. 12/06/2012 1:58 pm

    Great post, I do not shy away from bad news.
    I am very good under pressure, and at finding solutions.
    When I get bad news, be it for me or a friend, my immediate response is how do I fix this.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:30 pm

      Good ! All of us should have a friend like you around. It would help…TY!

      Like

  10. 12/06/2012 3:47 pm

    Interesting question. I don’t shy away from bad news, but I also don’t watch the nightly news because to me there is too much emphasis for my liking on the negative. I keep up with what is going on in the world through online news sources. As someone who was involved with sustainability projects, I’m aware of the bad news in our global environment and social justice issues. I suppose that I’m a muller and coper, not a chronic griever, with the possible exception of the sadness I feel over the way we cannot reach concensus as a species on issues like the environment and prosperity for all people.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:31 pm

      I hear you and try to avoid too much news too. But with grief, and when I know who is involved, I don’t avoid it. TY!

      Like

  11. 12/06/2012 10:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Milenanik3's Blog.

    Like

  12. 12/06/2012 10:43 pm

    Well-written, deep post

    Like

    • 12/06/2012 10:45 pm

      TY for your generous feedback… A lot has been on my mind of late. 😉

      Like

  13. 13/06/2012 12:19 am

    I don’t know why so many people just cannot even hear bad news, or just be real with someone in grief. I don’t know that I’m always graceful, but I can’t just not respond to someone who is hurting. It isn’t possible to ignore! I read a few blogs written by women who share about their personal losses and are quite skilled at talking about their own grieving processes. I think that I feel like I’m reading tutorials about how to be a good friend to those who are truly struggling with a deep loss. Your post adds to the punctuation! It’s an important perspective, Eiiz! Debra

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:34 pm

      Thank you for articulating this perfectly… My sentiments exactly.

      Like

  14. 13/06/2012 1:18 am

    Nobody like to hear bad news, including me! But I only know that we cannot run from it and have to face it. Though it is not easy but we still need to learn to accept it. Thank you for sharing this, Eliz

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:34 pm

      TY and I agree that we can make the effort to learn to be empathetic…

      Like

  15. 13/06/2012 1:22 am

    Thank you for sharing a post about one of our worst fears, to give the bad news. It’s never easy. There is a tremendous emotional involvement. Their will be tears, heart breaks, grief, even denial and rejection. In the end, one of us need to take courage and do it. Blessed are those who stood up and spoke bravely , honestly, with kindness and respect. Great post. Thank you.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:36 pm

      TY and I agree that there has to be courage involved in helping with grieving… It is never easy and a little help goes a long way.

      Like

  16. 13/06/2012 7:11 am

    I just spoke to a friend who had lost he rmother, on the phone. I called to console her. For me, there was no shying away. It was something I had to do, feeling her grief, because I knew the mother, though not personally.. The words I offered her were genuine and this would be followed with a visit with other friends to her house to officially/traditionally greet her and to hear firsthand the circumstances surrounding the death or to find out if the news you heard was true. That is how it is in Ghana. News of one’s death is followed by physical visitation to the house to offer condolence. Depending on how close you are to the bereaved, you offer your seivces as well, helping her run the necessary errands.

    Breaking the news of death is done taking into the consideration lots of factors. If it is a spousal;child/paretal death, the news in broken in the presnece of the bereaved’s pastor, close relations and friends. Again, you must make sure that the bereaved has finished his meal. You don’t break the news when the person is eating. Sometimes, words are carefully chosen, and euphimisms are used a lot to soften the impact. This is a fine post, Elizabeth, and you may want to write a research paper on the topic, with views from different cultural backgrounds on the subuject.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:39 pm

      Thank you for sharing this and my condolences to your friend on her mother’s passing… Like in Ghana, it is seen as an opportunity to congregate and reminisces and support the grieving family… I’m with you on that… I remember the cautious use of language too. I will write a paper on the subject. Thanks again!

      Like

  17. 13/06/2012 10:39 am

    They say don’t shoot the messenger when he brings bad news. Good job too if you are a news reader!! Time after time we hear the names of soldiers that die out in Afghanistan. We hear of our British troops, we hear of the American and other troops too. Bad news from Libya and everywhere – the New Reader would be a dying breed. Yes people do unite in grief or bad news. When there is a flood or an earthquake people always band together. It would seem bad news bring brings out the best in people.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:42 pm

      Yes, with news media reports you are right… With family and individual grieving, it is somewhat different… While it brings out the good in many, it can bring out the cruel in some. TY!

      Like

  18. 13/06/2012 11:10 am

    Based on my experience, when you are struggling, you learn quickly who your true friends and family are. I saw a quote a few months ago that has stuck with me, but I don’t know who the author is. It was something like “If you are not present during my struggles, don’t expect to be present during my successes.”

    Like

    • 13/06/2012 11:36 am

      TY Fergie and I agree completely with you… Sometimes people might not be aware, but if they are and say or do nothing or walk away as they did with my friend, then it is obvious. I love that quote. 🙂

      Like

  19. 13/06/2012 10:38 pm

    Wow what an excellent article, terrific read. For Napoleon I had some unintentional laughs. Indeed his people need to wake him up if battle is not going in his favor. I truly enjoy your writings. Cheers Nonoy Manga

    Like

  20. 14/06/2012 7:18 pm

    I don’t shy away from bad news. Instead, I have a far worse reaction. I laugh. I can’t help it. Sometimes, it’s really embarrassing. 😉

    Like

    • 14/06/2012 8:16 pm

      Nervous laughter? Yeah, that could be embarrassing but if you explain it maybe it’ll be okay.

      Like

  21. 15/06/2012 1:53 am

    i dont tell my ‘bad’ news to anyone but neither do i shy away from it it takes me time to understand why but once i get hold of myself dealing is easy

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:52 pm

      TY for sharing how you cope… Have you considered even sharing with a close friend or family? To carry such a burden alone must be heavy on the heart…

      Like

      • 17/06/2012 7:53 pm

        its difficult but its ok i dont think others will understand as much as i do i have tried it many times

        Like

    • 20/06/2012 9:18 am

      Okay… I respect your decision. 🙂

      Like

  22. 15/06/2012 2:40 am

    Thanks for this post, Elizabeth – it tackles a tough issue. A few hours ago I received an update from a friend about her health and it was nit at all good. I certainly won’t shy away from her but can understand why some people do – they honestly don’t know how to behave a lot of the time and often think they must “fix it” all somehow and make everything cheerful again. Grief and death are natural states but we are conditioned from a young age to treat them as abnormal and frightening.

    Like

    • 17/06/2012 4:55 pm

      Dear Bluebee, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend and I send her healing light and love… It must be a difficult time for her and I’m glad you will offer your support. Yes, I get how some can’t handle it, but even a simple gesture of kindness goes a long way…
      “Grief and death are natural states but we are conditioned from a young age to treat them as abnormal and frightening.” This is so true… and sad. TY!

      Like

  23. 16/06/2012 7:01 pm

    Mullers, Chronic grievers, Copers . . . . Is it possible that I am a bit of each? I might be sometimes the one and at other times the other, depending on who I am with and what I think my task is. In an interview after a bad loss I would probably come across as a muller. If I could see something positive in the loss wouldn’t I at the same time be better able to cope with the practical things that needed to be doing? I think being able to talk about the loss to a trusted person (s) helps in avoiding to becoming one of these ‘chronic grievers’ who want to talk about their loss all the time.

    Like

    • 16/06/2012 7:05 pm

      I was thinking the same thing; that we can be a bit of 2 or all of them at the same time in our lives. I suppose our personality might lend itself to one dominant style and then we have bits of the others… TY for your insights. 😉

      Like

  24. 16/06/2012 7:27 pm

    Hi, Eliz, I just would like to make another comment to this post. As usual you write so comprehensively and inspiringly about your subject. There’s so much in it. It takes me a while to sort out my thoughts and feelings about it.

    I ask myself now, why do we shy away from giving bad news, why do we not want to hear about others,receiving bad news and how do we handle it, if we receive bad news?

    Of course one doesn’t want to be the one to open up about a person dying for instance. So I pray for the courage to be telling the truth whenever I feel it should be told!

    Like

    • 16/06/2012 7:40 pm

      I pray for same and I agree with you. Also I think it is easier to talk about death in some cultures than in others. If it is seen as a taboo, hush subject and if some believe it rubs off then they avoid it. If a culture celebrates life and death then it is talked about openly. I wrote this post to help me understand the attitude people bring to bad news. Personally, I think it is not helpful to be silent. We don’t have to get all weepy but compassion means extending our concerns to those who are hurting. Eventually, we all lose someone and I do believe that how we show kindness comes back to us. Being silent is cruel. It shows a lack of regard for a fellow human being. We all bleed red blood and no one is better than the other. There is no excuse for it; in my book anyway. People cry over pets but ignore human suffering. How ignorant is that?
      I appreciate your reflections on the subject Auntyuta and it is helping me make sense of it all too. Thank you kindly. 🙂

      Like

  25. 16/06/2012 8:48 pm

    Excellent, very thoughtful post on the subject…so often, I do think even those with the best of intentions, shy away from “bad news”…probably in part, because it is so difficult to know how to best react themselves.
    Thoroughly enjoyed the read…thank you 🙂

    Like

    • 16/06/2012 11:00 pm

      TY for your comment and I get the difficult part. I just wish people would ask questions to clear the air. TY!

      Like

  26. 26/11/2012 5:49 pm

    I think that the human calendar is so funny. I wish that I had that on my site.

    Like

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