I have been going through two stressful life events in the last two months. There was a lot anger that these events were occurring; anger because I did not have much influence over the outcome of either situation. I could play a role, be active in making the situations slightly better, but nothing could be done about the ultimate outcomes – one of which ended pretty well, the other not so much.
I am pretty good at “Denial” which allows this anger (as well as fear) to fester. I am not as good at “Acceptance”, which brings more feelings of sadness. When I see negative life changes coming, I prefer denying and fighting against them. If the negative becomes the new normal, I accept it then, grudgingly – and after a few more moments of denial. Yet, with all these thoughts and emotions – acceptance, denial, sadness, fear and anger rolling around within me, it was not easy.
Historically, I have faced such events stoically, not letting others see what I am dealing with – or how the stress is affecting me. Similarly, I often get calls from people who are the Strong Ones in their families, those whom others go to for support. Yet these Strong Ones often do not have anyone to go to when they are getting hit hard and knocked around by stress and their emotions. What can they do when they are not used to sharing? Who can they go to? How can they talk about it? Difficult questions.
What kind of responses will I get? Will I be looked at as weak?
Typically, responses will be mixed. Some people will respond so emotionally, it is uncomfortable. Others are not very responsive at all or respond poorly. This can hurt. Alternatively, there are others who give us exactly what is needed. This mixed bag of responses is difficult to handle when we are already not doing well and we wonder if it is worth it.
Over time, I have learned that most people have good intentions when responding to others’ stress. Yet, there can be a variety of reasons why they do not respond as we would hope. They may not have had the experiences needed to understand what we are going through. They may base their responses on situations they are dealing with or have dealt with in their past. They just may not be very good at expressing such emotions.
For one of my stressors, I had the natural support system of my family who were all dealing with the same issue. This was helpful in that we could talk, email, etc. regarding what was going on and how we were coping. It had its limitations too, because we were all dealing with the same thing and did not have an outside perspective. So, do I share my stress outside the family? The second stressor I dealt with mostly on my own, though one close friend was quite involved with it. Again, do I share it with others?
“Testing the Waters” is what helped me get better at sharing stress and emotions: giving a little bit of information and seeing what kind of response I got. Seeing if information is kept private when I ask for it to be kept private. If I receive a good response, I attempt sharing a little more with this person even though it is uncomfortable. It opens doors to getting more support and for building closer relationships as we go through life. It has been a valuable way to get help.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.
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