Psy­chol­ogy

Peo­ple who are strug­gling need to hear their feel­ings are valid, not to “get over it”.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by Marc Wil­son

Peo­ple who are strug­gling need to hear their feel­ings are valid, not to “get over it”.

et’s talk. Tell me two or three things that have been go­ing right re­cently … What about two or three things that haven’t been go­ing quite so well? Uh-huh. That sounds a bit rough. How do you feel about it?

“Seems like there’s a fair bit go­ing on, then. It sounds like you are an­gry or frus­trated that de­ci­sions are be­ing made with­out you – is that right? So you think it doesn’t make sense that you’re not be­ing in­volved? Con­sid­er­ing that you’ve been in pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tions where you didn’t have a say, I think it’s un­der­stand­able that you feel re­sent­ful.

“Mind you, re­fus­ing to tell peo­ple what you’re feel­ing, and why, doesn’t help them un­der­stand why you’re so up­set. What do you need from them, or oth­ers around you, to make that hap­pen?

“It might not be easy, but take a lit­tle time to think about what we’ve talked about. I can see that you’re try­ing hard, and I think you’re go­ing to start feel­ing bet­ter about this.”

Yes, it’s scripted, but it does il­lus­trate a few things that can be quite im­por­tant.

I was at Par­lia­ment re­cently for a stu­dent-led march to ask for bet­ter re­sourc­ing for stu­dents’ and young peo­ple’s men­tal health. Three young peo­ple gave ex­tremely per­sonal and mov­ing ac­counts of their, and other’s, strug­gles. Vic­to­ria Univer­sity of Welling­ton Stu­dents As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Mar­lon Drake fin­ished things off with an equally pas­sion­ate call for change. Among the changes he called for was an end to this “bull­shit cul­ture of

‘get over it’,” that, he ex­plained, feels al­most per­va­sive among men in our coun­try.

“Get over it” or “toughen up” are the op­po­site of “that sounds a bit rough” and “it’s un­der­stand­able that you feel like that right now”. The first two re­sponses are dis­mis­sive, they di­min­ish one’s ex­pe­ri­ence, but the lat­ter two are in­tended to be val­i­dat­ing, which is not the same as en­dors­ing the be­hav­iour.

The first time I re­ally thought about val­i­da­tion was watch­ing peo­ple go through di­alec­ti­cal be­havioural ther­apy train­ing (DBT). This was first de­vel­oped for work­ing with peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence un­usu­ally high lev­els of emo­tional dis­tress and who of­ten deal with it in self-de­struc­tive ways. Although the sub­jects were those meet­ing di­ag­nos­tic cri­te­ria for bor­der­line per­son­al­ity dis­or­der, DBT

Be em­pa­thetic, look them in the eye, show them that you’re lis­ten­ing by nod­ding and with uh-huhs.

has be­come a lit­tle bit like how-to-live-your-life advice to me.

Drake set a chal­lenge to be kind to one an­other and to ask those awk­ward ques­tions such as, “How are you re­ally?” DBT teaches that, when you do it, you should mean it – be em­pathic, look the other per­son in the eye, show them that you’re lis­ten­ing by nod­ding and with uh-huhs. Make sure you un­der­stand by check­ing that you’ve got the right end of the stick.

If it sounds like they’re hav­ing a rough time, ac­knowl­edge and val­i­date that. Ask them if there’s any­thing they want some help with – I know that my first in­stinct is to switch into prob­lem-solv­ing mode, but some­times, just be­ing heard is enough.

Yes, it may feel awk­ward, and it may be the same for the other per­son, too. That’s un­der­stand­able.

Mar­lon Drake: be kind to one an­other.

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