We all need somebody to lean on
We all know how frightening and overwhelming it can be to keep our anxieties and concerns to ourselves. Being isolated and alone with our problems can eventually lead us to a personal crisis or breakdown. This occurs when intense emotions and negative thoughts spiral out of control and remain unexpressed. Causing us catastrophic shifts in our moods and psyche that cause long-term damage our mental health or relationships.
We can become consumed with guilt, anger and fear; as well as self-harming behaviours, or dependency on alcohol and drugs in order to cope. Most people try to avoid a crisis by remaining quiet or ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away. But keeping a lid on things only works so long until our demons come back to haunt us, or create destructive impulses that threaten to undermine our sanity. The human mind is a vulnerable creature.
So why do we keep silent. Hiding stuff that won’t go away. Kidding ourselves with the delusion that if we dare not speak its name the problem will disappear.
We all need somebody to lean on. Someone we can trust to lend an empathetic ear or offer an alternative viewpoint. Even if it’s as simple as receiving a hug or someone who listens.
Complying with a conspiracy of silence never helped anyone, not even if it’s a conspiracy with ourselves. So why do we do it? Is it fear of being judged? Fear of humiliation and shame? A lack of self-acceptance? Or feelings of worthlessness and a sign of weakness?
These are all common factors that cause people to clam up. It’s as if we have an inner voice persecuting us or telling us we’re no good at all. And then we feel like a fraud about to be discovered. Weak, pathetic, feckless. But this only increases our suffering and withdrawal from loved ones and friends. Loneliness becomes unendurable. And silence a trap. It serves to undermine our confidence and reinforce the conditions of learned helplessness. Our own fear ends up the biggest demon of all. We become utterly paralysed by it.
Choosing to break the silence is a challenge for all of us. It can also be a risk. But no more than risking a personal breakdown. When we’re that vulnerable, we need someone who can understand us and withstand our darkest fears. And given the vast range of human experience and endeavour, it’s highly unlikely that someone hasn’t felt the same way as us before or made the same mistakes.
Breaking the silence with someone you love and trust is not about putting a burden on them. It is gifting them with your trust. It’s a sign that you accept their love and compassion without fear of being betrayed.
There is always someone to hear us. Someone to listen to our confessions; along with the agonies and ecstasies of our heart and mind. There is always a person we can go to. And someone we can trust with our feelings. Even if that’s a trained professional.
What can talking lead to?
A sense of relief – When you’ve been keeping feelings or pain and distress to yourself for a long time, talking to someone you trust can bring a real sense of relief. It can feel like you’re letting go of your problems as your thoughts and feelings are finally revealed. You get to express your needs and concerns to someone who can understand what it’s like to feel vulnerable and alone. This can also lead to peace of mind and equilibrium in your relationships.
A closer bond in relationships – Opening up to a friend or loved one about our problems can lead to a sense of closeness in relationships, as well learn strengthen the bond and trust between you at a much deeper level. When you know where you stand with others, things can feel safer and more secure in your relationships.
Feelings of empathy and compassion – Sometimes those closest to us might be able to see things from our point of view and understand our thoughts and feelings much more than we are aware. Perhaps they will have been through similar traumas or events themselves and can identify with our experiences.
A problem shared – Problems can really begin to build up inside and weigh heavily upon us when we keep things to ourselves. So sharing problems can mean you get to share the emotional burden and erratic thoughts without dumping on people or deflecting them in some other way. It’s likely to get much worse if you experience destructive impulses and emotional outbursts.
A common sense of humanity - When you share your feelings and thoughts with someone else you might find that they are able to identify with your experiences, as they have had similar ones themselves or made similar mistakes in the past. Most human beings share similar problems, frailties and vulnerabilities.
An alternative viewpoint – Often when you’re experiencing intense emotions and thoughts you can become very blinkered and judgemental; seeing things in black and white terms or experiencing paranoia. But by discussing and sharing your problems with others it might give you a chance to see things from a different point of view. People can offer us a wider perspective and help us develop a range of solutions to our problems.
Constructive feedback – If you speak to someone who is impartial or uninvolved and distant from your problems then they can help by offering us constructive feedback. This is not the same thing as receiving advice and guidance, but a chance to choose from a number of alternatives. Some people may be able to help you look at things from a different angle and consider your options, or even offer you knowledge, expertise and information you hadn’t considered before.
Open communication – When you’re more honest with people and develop more open communication it can remove obstacles, misunderstanding and confusion. The more clear things are between you and the people you love and respect, the more you can relax in their company and feel less like a fraud. When you’re hiding things or being deceitful it can lead to uncontainable feelings of guilt and shame. The more you conceal your thoughts and feelings, the deeper you get into despair, until you feel there’s no way back.
Conflict resolution – Often owning up to volatile feelings like anger, frustration and disappointment can lead to an opportunity for resolution in a conflict or a chance to change someone’s point of view. Being genuine and truthful about how you feel to others may allow you to thrash out your issues, negotiate a way forward and come to an agreement, or at least some boundaries you can both respect.
Taking responsibility – When we make mistakes and don’t own up to our problems, we can get fixated on avoid taking responsibility. Responsibility is not about taking the blame which is negative, one dimensional and leaves us nowhere else to go. Responsibility is about acknowledging the problem full-on, admitting we have a problem openly with others and seeking a way to put things straight. It allows us to apologise to others and make up.
A mistake you can learn from – When you make mistakes you’re faced with a set of choices: to face up to the consequences and put things right, to ignore the problem and hope it will go away, or to be learn from your mistakes. This means we can move forward without regrets. Or we can confront our issues head on with a strategy and a set of goals, rather than go into denial or sweep them under the carpet.
Self-acceptance – When you open up your emotions and reveal your innermost thoughts to those close to you without feeling judged, it can really lead to a sense of being accepted. Self-acceptance is vital to your confidence and self-esteem. Without it you may never learn to feel good enough, or give yourself a chance to take risks and achieve your dreams and aspirations. Learning to tolerate intense emotions and take charge of your behaviour means you are more likely to restore your self-belief and peace of mind.
Love and affection – When you share your thoughts and feelings with others, you not only lay the groundwork for becoming closer but you can also receive love and affection from them. Having someone to lean on may be as simple as being held, receiving a hug or being caressed. This means that you can develop intimacy and closeness in your friendships and family, as you staving off feelings of isolation, loneliness and despair.
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About Gregori Savva
I am an experienced counsellor at Counselling Twickenham, Enduring Mind. I've been profoundly affected by my work with other people as a psychotherapist, anthropologist and writer. I'm captivated by the interior lives of others and the cultures they live in. Please visit my website for resources on counselling, self-help tools and resources.