There will come a time in your exciting young life when somebody you know experiences a traumatic life-changing event. She will be pretty bummed out as a result, and you will want to buck her up because (a) you read in Oprah Magazine that bucked-up people live longer, and (b) you are adverse to change and just want your old happy-go-lucky pal back, and (c) you don’t know what else the hell to do. So you will say to her–it is inevitable– "You’re strong! You’re brave! It’s going to be all right!"
And she will regard you dimly and reply, "I’m not fucking strong or brave, you ass, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about." At which point you will undoubtedly be moved to contradict her with an oration enlarging on the following theme:
"You are stronger than you think."
My advice is this: Pause. Reflect. What you are really saying when you recite this proverb is, "I override what you have just told me in order to obscure the complexity of your impending doom with my simplistic fortune-cookie platitude, and to inform you that, even though this is happening to you and not to me, I know better than you do, and to suggest that, since you are the victim of a traumatic life-changing event, your judgement is flawed and your perceptions are invalid."
That’s right. Telling her "you are stronger than you think!" is patronizing. Or maybe asinine. Of course you mean well, but take a moment to observe your friend closely. You will probably perceive that she is not a five-year-old, and hasn’t been for about 40 years. Because of her giant brain, she knows perfectly well that she does not possess superpowers of the sort you seem determined to ascribe to her. She also knows perfectly well that you are no visionary psychic, and that when you say, "it’s going to be all right," you are just blowing smoke up her ass.
In fact, "You’re stronger than you think" has never actually bucked anybody up in the history of the human bummer. If you don’t believe me, perhaps you will concede that it has, at least, failed to work in this instance. Your pal will understand that you don’t know what else to say, but she will also get the message that her being bummed out is unpalatable to you. She will feel for you. She will try to make you feel better by pretending to be comforted by your maudlin gurglings. Inwardly, though, she will sense a distance that wasn’t there before the traumatic life-changing event sent her reeling off on a trajectory vastly different from yours. She will feel marginalized by your well-meaning attempts to downplay its horror.
Because she is trying to tell you, "this shit is fucking fucked up and I’m a fucking mess," and she just wants you to fucking believe her.
[Note: The preceding remarks are intended to apply to non-virtual relationships between people who actually know each other. To those of you I have not had the pleasure of meeting in real life, and who have kindly written to tell me how brave I am, please refrain from taking offense. Believe me, I appreciate that it must seem that way to you. But seriously, I am still the same old dumbass I always was. Which is to say, I am motivated to endure my current tortures purely by unheroic instinct for self-preservation.]