Struggling for the right thing to say -- or post on Facebook -- over a loved one's hardship? You can stop now.
Turns out there isn't really one right phrase that will make everything better, according to a series of studies published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.
Psychologists at Wayne State University in Detroit asked 54 undergrads to rate 96 "supportive" statements, tackling eight hypothetical crisis situations.
With the statements, they cast a wide net -- from optimistic reassurances ("things have a way of working out for the best") to phrases designed to make them feel included ("so what if you didn't make the team -- now you can spend more time with us").
But no one approach struck a chord with participants. Instead, and as previous research in this field has suggested, soul-soothing words seem to boil down to individual preferences.
Simply put: it's down to people's individual quirks, which can be hard to predict.
To further back up their hypothesis, lead researcher Shawna Tanner's team tasked 33 clinical psychologists, undergrad and graduate clinical trainees with rating statements made by counselors in therapy training videos.
Again, there was virtually no unanimity about which statements helped more than hurt.
Kim Allen-McGinley, a Staten Island-based psychotherapist, says it doesn't really matter exactly what you say. Just say something -- and, more importantly, listen.
"The most important thing you can do for a loved one in pain is respect their healing process and let them know you're there for them with no conditions," says Allen-McGinley.
"Most people in a lot of pain tend to carry feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety and depression, so it's important that they feel they have a safe place to share these emotions without judgement."