How many times have you replied questions about your welfare with the statement: I am fine? It’s like our minds are automatically programmed to present with that response any time we are asked, ‘how are you?’ even in the midst of the most trying moments.
Whenever we meet friends and acquaintances, the probable trend of discussion goes like this:
You: Hi Cynthia, how is it going with you?
Her: I am fine (she had just lost her phone the previous night).
You: Well, you look blue. Is everything okay?
Her: I have said I am fine. There’s no problem.
You: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any harm.
Her: It’s okay. Take care.
Few minutes later, she’s in her room crying and lamenting. She just lost some information on her phone. Her concern is more about the information than the phone.
Permit me to say this: ‘I am fine’ is a big lie! The truth is that you are hurting, and you need someone to talk with.
Is it that easy to talk to someone – to share how you truly feel without fear of being judged or misread? Yes and No. Inasmuch as I wouldn’t go into why it has to be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, I would like you to take your stand by the time you read what I have to say.
The truth is that, the place of talking with rather than just talking to someone cannot be overemphasized. Despite this, many are reticent to share their problems because of the fear of people being reluctant to care. There may be the many unfortunate incidents of betrayal and backstabbing by those who are trusted with intimate information, yet there are a number that are still reliable.
When I discussed this topic with some people in a certain forum, many raised the following concerns:
2) Lack of emotional steel.
3) Lack of confidence in the ability of others to solve their problems.
4) The probability of meeting people who are simply time wasters.
5.) The apparent absence of an objective measure to identify real helpers and the fact that some things are preferably left unshared.
The issues raised are valid. However, to navigate through these possible concerns cum challenges, I suggest the following tips:
Talking to ‘someone’ as stated above never meant just ‘anyone’. There’s a ‘someone’ who could help but until the person asks, such help will be far away. Aside the antecedents of the other individual, how would you determine who is really trustworthy or not? So, no matter the objective measures that are reliable to identify the right person to talk to, assume a subjective stance. Something as simple as a hunch or inward conviction is good for a start. Even as a doctor, for example, you know that it’s not every patient that will like you or would want you to treat them. Does it now make your years of trainings null and void? It’s still their choices to make. My simple advice when it comes to seeking that ‘someone’ is to ‘use your head’ rather than ‘your heart’. You still reserve the right to keep the issue to yourself. If it works for you, no problem. On a personal note, I am not a psychologist but due to medical training (medicine and physiotherapy) and even as a human being, I have extended loving hands of empathy to people even on Facebook, some of whom I have never met before. The essence is to do good unto others and assist as much as we can.
Antecedents speak louder than stories. We ought to look at the antecedents of certain people around us. Some people are naturally good with keeping secrets. Some of these sets of people are willing to take secrets to their graves if it comes to that. When it comes with sharing certain intimate details, anyone that can’t keep a secret is automatically a red flag; your relationship with that person is immaterial here. Let’s keep aside those who by virtue of their professional training are expected to maintain confidentiality at all times. Even at that, some fail in this regard once a while. One of the easiest ways to identify these kinds of people is to look at their timelines (if it is on social media), their reputation before others. Anyone that’s fond of discussing others is a big turn off. Who knows, when you share your experience with them, you will become the next topic of discussion.
Empathy. Being empathetic is a skill many do not have. Remember, it is totally different from being sympathetic. While sympathy mostly deals with having feelings of sorrow and sadness for the other person, empathy has a lot to do with understanding the situation and having a share of the experience in question. It is easier for a widow to comfort another widow. A married woman is more likely to be sympathetic unlike widow A who is more likely to be empathetic to her because widow A understands the experience of widow B. You can find out empathetic people through their stories. Sharing stories is not enough though. However, when the person shares stories with a sense of gratitude, humility and a willingness to inspire and motivate others to avoid such pitfalls, then that’s a positive sign; more so, if the experience is something people hardly want to talk about like sexuality, rape, assault et cetera.
When it comes with sharing certain intimate details, anyone that can’t keep a secret is automatically a red flag
The place of professionals cannot be over emphasized. The major challenge is that some people still attach taboos to psychiatric visits. In other climes, an individual can easily visit a psychiatrist for complaints like depression, adjustment and personality challenges. Good enough, there are still psychologists, social workers et cetera. Take note that assistance relating to financial assistance, romantic attachments and so on do not fall within the purview of these professionals.
This list is not exhaustive but I believe we can start with these. The act of sharing with others itself remains efficacious. The challenge is usually the hereafter. For the records, let me share a story here. I have randomly responded to someone on Facebook messenger only to discover that she was really weighed down about the next meal and already in debt, not being paid for completed jobs etc. I never knew at the outset but in hindsight, I realized it was God leading me. Unlike me that doesn’t respond to ‘waves’ on messenger, that particular day I replied and guess what? my little attempt to facilitate the chat ended up solving a problem that if I hadn’t gone out of my usual routine and responded, a smile might have taken longer to return to that face. That single interaction has helped to encourage her as she grows in her endeavors today. Since then, I have learnt not to be too fast to ignore a ‘wave’ on messenger.
Many times, those negative signs of a person’s unreliability are there but we wouldn’t heed to them. I have made mistakes on that too. If I can’t share examples of people I have spoken with and have been better today, I wouldn’t be bold enough to continue what I do and encourage others to do same. It will not always be cool but we just have to try our best and leave the rest for any wave of life’s uncertainties.
In addition, I am not ignorant of the time wasters and those who have a poor sense of personal space. For me, daily schedules are enough to put me back in line. Years of experience had equally helped me to identify such individuals and limit purposeless interactions to the barest minimum. You can do the same too.