A few thoughts that might help us as we try and communicate with others
I’d like to make a confession: I’ve had years of training in communication and yet sometimes I still have trouble talking to people. When I’m still trying to get my head around something happening in my life, and I know I need some extra help, I start to feel really vulnerable. I know that talking about what’s going on can be crucial but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
In my work as a psychologist I meet a lot of people who have trouble talking and it shows up in a number of ways. There are those who know that if they don't say what they need to say straight away, they know they won't say it all. We haven't even said hi and they jump straight in. Then there are others who wait until they are walking out of the room. With one foot out of the door they'll say, 'By the way, I really wanted to talk about ....'. For others it's like a hit and run: everything comes out but then they flee the scene and can't bring themselves to come back. Whatever our style, talking about important things can be hard for most of us.
During Momentum a lot of the questions that came in were about how to speak about important things we’re dealing with, how to ask for support, and how to find the courage to open up about things when we feel ashamed and isolated. So whilst there’s no magic formula to make it easy, here are a few thoughts that might help us as we try and communicate with others.
1) We don't have to have it all figured out
At times we can hold back from talking to someone because we don’t understand what’s going on ourselves. Talking can give us get a clearer perspective of what we’re dealing with as well as providing us with support as we move forward.
2) Sometimes we don't have the words
Recently a young guy sat down with me and it was clear he had something on his mind. After a while he said, 'I know I need to talk but you're going to have to help me. I just don't know where to start. I don't have any words'. I loved that; it's honest, clear and let me know what he really needed. It took us a while but it was worth it.
3) Start small if you need to
Some of us don't start talking because we think about how overwhelming the whole conversation will be. Maybe a different approach is to think that even starting the conversation is better than not having it at all. Then we’re moving in the right direction, and we can work out if the other person is trustworthy and open to walking some of the journey with us.
4) It's important to be a little choosy
Most of us have had an experience where we tried to talk to someone and the response wasn’t great, say for example the person repeated something said in confidence and it damaged our trust in them. If we talk to anyone and everyone that will always lead to problems; we need to pick those we confide in carefully. Look for people who are mature, godly, level, caring, trustworthy, and available enough to journey with you.
5) It's important not to be too choosey
In balance to the last point, no one will be able to be there for us in the way we need them to 100% of the time or be able to say the right thing every time. If we wait for the perfect person then we’ll wait too long and end up very stuck and isolated. Finding a person who is solid and has a depth of character might be a good starting point even if they don’t have all of the answers.
6) Have realistic expectations
It’s important to remember that one conversation is unlikely to change your world. What it does do is share the burden and break down isolation. Be realistic about what the person you’re approaching can offer and the time they have available. If you approach your pastor and they say they can’t see you for a couple of days, don’t take that as a rejection. If you need something sooner, make it clear why and see if they can help.
7) Different people might have different roles
Expecting one person to have all of the answers isn’t realistic. Sometimes a pastor will be able to give one level of input but a counsellor or doctor might also be helpful. Other times the counsel of a friend might be all that’s needed. Every situation is unique and we should think about who might be helpful for the particular situation we’re facing.
8) Practice in the good times
Research shows that having a good network of people can make us more resilient in the tough times. Making friendship a focus and learning trust while things are good is a great way to be ready for when the hard times come.
9) Understand that the other person could be out of their depth too
Every time two people talk, both bring expectations and hopes to the conversation. The person you are sharing with will often want to help but might also be afraid of making mistakes or feeling out of their depth. As you talk you may find you need to speak to someone with more skill and that’s okay. It’s still a positive thing you had that conversation as it’s a step in the right direction.
10) Watch out for over-share
Sometimes when we’ve had a positive experience of sharing, we can start to share with lots of people over time. For deeper issues it's really important to limit yourself to a small number of people who are safe and who will keep your confidence. If you don’t, it can be hard to move on from the issue after you heal because it’s something everyone knows about.
I hope this helps but remember that it’s okay to say you need a professional. Talking with friends is important but psychologists and counsellors have been trained to help you process things that are going on in your life and there’s no shame in asking for more help.