Well the truth is you don't!
How often do you hear people saying that? either to someone else or even in response to a personal experience you’ve shared?
It’s just not possible for someone else to know exactly what you’re feeling. The number of variables involved in getting you to this point in your life makes your experiences unique. Even siblings witnessing the ‘same’ event will look at things from a different perspective. Age, the actual state you are in at that moment and past experiences cause your perception of life events to be influenced.
Even when your intentions are well meant by saying ‘I know exactly how you feel’, they can cause confusion and may even hurt someone. Your experience might have been similar but it wasn’t the same, you might understand part of what happened but not all of what happened.
When you use these words there’s a good chance you are closing the doors to communication instead of opening them.
It can even happen when you divulge a small amount of information about a personal, possibly painful, situation. If the recipient of this information reacts in a way that feels over the top, you are less likely to divulge more; as in ‘this person can’t handle anything more intense’.
If we look at ‘Empathy vs Sympathy’ (Brené Brown has a fabulous little film demonstrating this); Empathy is realising someone must be feeling bad and letting them know you care whereas sympathy may be seen as an offering of empty words.
Let’s be honest there are times when you have no idea what to say but even silence can be better than telling someone you know how they feel because you can of course only imagine how someone else feels which is something you can say “I can only imagine how you must be feeling”.
“Do you want to talk about it?” is a question you can ask but not with an expectation attached to it. If the person n question wants to talk, listen without judgement and if they don’t let them know you are there for them so they decide to talk.
We all judge, it happens in seconds before we even realise what we’re doing. When you are aware you’re judging you can choose to let go and be curious.