COLUMN: How do we relate to others in our time of need?

One of the questions I have found myself asking more and more recently is how do we communicate our feelings to others?

Partially this is because of my experience working with couples in therapy, but also it is something a friend of mine raised, a concept which I found thought provoking. The reason for this is that whilst it would seem quite simple in its nature, actually this very notion is highly complex and possesses a multitude of variables.

Previously I spent nearly ten years working closely with individuals with disabilities and health conditions and within that time I learned a lot. A question which always intrigued me was how do people with learning disabilities communicate if they are feeling despondent? How could we possibly begin to quantify the amount of individuals within this cohort who are affected by a mental health condition? This in turn led to me thinking about how people who do not face those challenges communicate, and actually there is an argument that only sporadically do we get this right.

Why can we talk freely to people about almost any subject, but when it comes to disclosing our feelings to our loved ones we struggle so much? Mental health and the accompanying emotions are never easy to discuss. The subject is highly emotive and even if the other person has been through something identical, they cannot possibly know how we feel because everybody has different coping strategies and will be effected differently right? But that would allude to us only disclosing because we want somebody else to feel our pain and understand would it not?

Actually what we are looking for ultimately is for somebody to empathise. We know they cannot truly feel our pain, but we need the acknowledgement that they can see the pain we are experiencing. We yearn for that support and often for somebody to reach out and tell us everything will be ok. It does not feel like much, but still we have this reticence to speak out. We experience the trepidation around disclosing, feeling unconvinced they will understand and remain non-judgmental. Sometimes it is about perception and not wanting to appear as weak to others. If you have been acquainted with always being the strong one, the protector, the provider, then communicating feelings of despondency can create an aura of vulnerability, which you may feel ashamed to show.

The important thing to remember here is that this is a two way process and each individual has a part to play. A question to ask yourself is “If a loved one felt vulnerable, would they know how to approach me to elicit the optimum support?”

Have you had a conversation whereby you have mutually agreed a productive way to communicate should the situation arise? Most importantly, would they feel comfortable approaching you?

Remember when somebody is feeling vulnerable it is not merely about listening, it is about hearing. It is important to take your emotion out of the situation and try to make them feel comfortable whilst disclosing. Ensure that you are listening to hear rather than listening to respond and remember however uncomfortable it may be to hear those things, it may well be significantly more uncomfortable for the other person to say them.

• If you need to speak to someone, call Samaritans for free at any time on 116 123.