There’s a deep well of encouraging phrases most people turn to when trying to cheer up a friend or loved one: “You’ll do better next time.” Or “It’s not really that bad, is it?” Or the relatively straightforward “Come on—cheer up!” All of these pick-you-ups are delivered with good intentions, but psychological researchers have known for a while that when they’re offered to certain people, they’re not very helpful. A new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines this within the context of the listener’s self-esteem, and offers some very useful tips for how to comfort people going through difficult times.

The researchers, from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, ran a bunch of experiments involving how to best support people with different levels of self-esteem. They found that so-called “positive reframing,” which, as the name suggests, is an attempt to put negative events in their “proper” perspective, not only doesn’t resonate with people with low self-esteem, but can actually fully backfire and make the comforter feel worse about themselves because their comforting is not working, potentially damaging their relationship with the person they’re trying to comfort.



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