We need to stop playing the role of fairy godmother or godfather. 

Professional Development
March 12, 2024

I have been speaking about this character a lot in my talks and workshops recently. 

While they might think they are doing the right thing by sprinkling fairy dust and sunshine to make others feel better in challenging or emotional situations, this approach can have unintended consequences. 

This character can come out to shine, not only toward others but to ourselves as well. They seem lovely, don’t they? But what they are doing can be the opposite of what they intend.

Comments like 
“Don’t worry, everything will be okay,”
 “Things happen for a reason,” 
“You’re so strong, I don’t know how you do it,” 
or
“There are people worse off” 
can be well-intentioned but may dismiss the reality of what the person is experiencing. 

Phrases that insert cliché reasoning and justification, such as “At least _____,” can also have this effect.

Other behaviors like rushing for a hug, trying to find solutions or rescuing, giving the old ‘there, there’ pat on the back, trying to cheer someone up immediately, faffing around with tissues, or telling someone not to cry or they will make you cry, can unintentionally dismiss the person’s feelings.

These are just some of the fairy-like things that are meant to reassure, support, and help, but they can actually dismiss what is truly happening. 

A little bit of hope and gratitude goes a long way, but when someone is upset, disappointed, or dealing with significant issues, they need to be seen, heard, and acknowledged in their feelings and experiences.

When time and space are given for this acknowledgment, it allows the emotions to be expressed, preventing them from festering or manifesting in unhelpful behaviors such as doom-scrolling, turning to alcohol, becoming reactive, or withdrawing.

While it can be challenging to sit with someone without trying to fix the situation or feel useful, don’t underestimate the power of your presence, acknowledging feelings, and simply being with another. 

Silence is okay; your presence and listening with your whole being are important. When we are seen, heard, and acknowledged in our experiences, we can then work through them rather than feeling dismissed, misunderstood, or it being about the other person’s need to do something.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. When is positivity useful, and what are some experiences that have been well-intentioned but have had the opposite effect?

photograph by Heidi Wolff at Local Government Professional Women’s network conference