What do you do when you’re hurting and need to talk?
Maybe this seems like an obvious question and answer, but a lot of people (and I’m one of them) didn’t learn emotional regulation as kids for a variety of reasons. In my case, I was constantly told that my feelings were wrong, so as an adult I found it hard to understand which emotions were which. It took a long time to recognize that anger is anger and has it’s associated sensations, same with fear, safety, love, comfort, etc.
If you can’t identify your emotions, then you can’t cope with them. If you never know how you’re truly feeling and in a reactive state, you won’t know which coping skills might help you. Coping skills may even seem like a silly idea.
So what are coping skills?
Well, it’s exactly as it sounds. They are “soft” or interpersonal or “wraparound” skills at the mental/psychological level that you use to “cope” with a situation or emotion or environment. You may not realize you use some ingrained coping skills all the time. For example, if you’re hungry but need to pick up milk on the way home, do you ever beeline straight to the dairy case to avoid going through the deli and smelling all the unhealthy food you might pick up? That’s an environmental coping skill. Do you ever plan to avoid someone at a party or networking event because they bother you? Also a coping skill. But not all coping skills are planning ahead or avoiding things that bother us.
For a lot of people who have trouble coping, they either didn’t develop coping skills or developed “maladaptive” coping skills, meaning coping skills that eventually bite you in the ass (to put it plainly). I wrote here about my maladaptive coping skills with anxiety.
So how can you develop coping skills and get the help you need?
First, be responsible for your needs.
You might have a large support network of friends and family, or small one. Regardless of how many people in your support network, it’s important to know which people you can talk to and about what. This isn’t a deficiency or fault on anyone’s part. Some people are able to hear you when you’re hurting in some ways, some people aren’t – maybe it hurts them to hear about it, maybe it triggers them, maybe they aren’t very good at giving support because they don’t know what to say. Identify the issues you might need to talk about proactively, and think about who in your life might be open to hear about those things. I have a group of friends I talk to about business concerns, and a couple of good friends I talk to when I’m having PTSD-related episodes. I talk to my dad about wayward clients, and my mom about wayward employees.
Second, determine what kind of help are you looking for.
When you need to talk, tell them you need to talk and that you need some supportive listening. It also helps to know what helps you the most. Are you looking for advice? Only listening and validation? Encouragement?
Third, limit the amount of time in your “peer support” sessions.
People providing support by listening to you are humans too, and too much of another person unloading their problems can negatively impact them. Be mindful of your family/friends’ wellbeing by setting a time limit for the discussion of your problem. You can always ask them for more support or maybe talk to another friend about it if you want.
The best way to ensure your friends/family are your support network and are there to listen to you when you need it is to be there for them when they need it. When they need support, be there to listen for them. And follow the steps above for support to be productive: ask them what they are looking for in support and limit the amount of time to protect your wellbeing too.