Lately, I have seen this word used on social media or have heard others respond this way. Honestly, it makes me cringe. Bummer. An invalidating word when used alone. "My car broke down and I had to walk a mile in high heels to get gas". Bummer. "My kids are struggling to make friends in school". Bummer. "I lost my big soccer game." Bummer. When someone wants to vent, share challenges and frustrations or just know someone is listen, they want to hear something more than a one-word response. In my opinion, "Bummer" just simply falls short.
Rarely, if ever, does a one-word response evoke feelings of validation. Perhaps the intent is sincere, yet it just comes off as a half-hearted attempt at empathy. It sounds a bit more like a try for sympathy, an appearance of compassion or feeling sorry for someone while not really having to invest much emotional energy or get involved.
To validate another’s feelings and respond with empathy, a person must reach down into the depths of his or her own emotional center to relate with those uncomfortable feelings. It takes energy, vulnerability and effort. A simple “Bummer” just won’t do. I suppose “Bummer” feels better than an attempt to fix things by “looking on the bright side” which can also feel invalidating. I like to think of them as distant cousins.
If I get a “Bummer” response, I typically don’t share any more. Not because I’m angry or cold, but it is my cue that perhaps the person is not able to engage emotionally or does not have the time or energy to invest at that moment.
If someone absolutely must say “Bummer”, please at least follow-up with an empathic response. “My car broke down and I had to walk a mile in my high heels to get gas.” Bummer, that must have been miserable. I bet you got blisters. How did it turn out? “My kids are struggling to make friends in school.” Bummer, it’s hard to make friends and kids can be mean. How are they handling it? “I lost my big soccer game.” Bummer, losing never feels good. What happened in the game?
I still think there is no need to say “Bummer” at all, but that’s just me. It seems trendy now and I have a feeling it’s around to stay. I just would love to hear more empathy and compassion behind the word, if that is what a person wants to convey. If you want to shut down, invalidate or send the message that you feel sorry for someone and don’t want to get too involved, then “Bummer.” is the way to go!