The phrase, “Well, bless your (or her or his) heart,” has been assigned an undeserved negative connotation these days, I believe from Yankee writers who pretend to understand the South.
When I was growing up, blessing someone’s heart meant just what it says. Folks said it to or about folks who were going through a difficult time or situation because there just were no other words to convey one’s sympathy, or more importantly, empathy, because we’d all known hard times. We were asking God’s blessing on that person.
Take for example if you were standing in the churchyard after services talking about sister Beth who had lost her husband, or someone’s child home sick with chicken pox, or brother Clyde who just came home from the hospital, “Well, bless her (or his) heart” preceded the plans to take food to them, visit, and pray for them.
When a little one fell and skinned her (or his) knee the grown up in charge would scoop up the child and with a “bless your little heart” followed by a kiss to make the boo-boo all better.
What “bless your heart” did not mean, was that the person saying it thought the person to which it was directed was so stupid that ‘bless your heart” was the politest thing to say – which of course it is not, since now folks believe that is what it means. Some folks think it is a synonym for “dumb ass” which of course they would never say out loud, so they say, “Bless her (or his) heart.
So, this is just to let anyone who knows me—if I say, “Bless your heart” I am really asking God’s blessing on you whether your pain is a small boo-boo or a life altering crisis. It means I love you and care, even if I can’t do anything to change your situation. And, bless your hearts to all you Yankees who don’t know any better, and young Southerns who believe them..