Image courtesy of SeanRock.
One tenet you’ll often hear in personal development circles is that “it’s good to talk” or “a burden shared is a burden halved”. Sometimes, though, when feeling down, you’ll talk to a spouse, parent or friend about how you feel … and you’ll find that you’re just dragging yourself into a deeper and blacker mood.
So why is it that talking doesn’t always help? And how can you help someone who wants to talk to you about their woes?
Talking Often Focuses on the Problem
Perhaps you’ve been feeling a bit down recently. Maybe you have bleak days when it seems like you’ve lost your direction in life. You might talk to a friend about it, detailing all the things you wish you could do (if only you had the money, or the time, or the skills), and endlessly dissecting everything that’s wrong in your life.
Talking about everything that’s wrong just reinforces your focus on things that aren’t currently working. If you’re already in a bad mood, it’ll send you spiralling further and further down. Have you ever had the experience of “working yourself into a state” – feeling a bit anxious or angry about something, and dwelling on it until the molehill becomes a mountain?
Tip for Helping: If someone wants to talk to you about everything that’s wrong in their life, encourage them to find something that’s good. Ask “what’s been better recently?” This is a technique that the coach Mark Forster uses and explains in his book How to Make Your Dreams Come True.
Talking May Mean Saying Something You Regret
When you’re in a bad mood, or feeling very fed up about something, it’s easy to think that your state of mind represents your real feelings about a job, relationship, or life situation. The truth is, how you feel when in a bad mood is no more “real” or objective than the way you feel when everything’s going swimmingly.
One danger of trying to talk through your bad moods is that you’ll end up saying something you’ll regret. Perhaps you’ll think, at the time, that you’re telling your friend a few home truths … but later you’ll realise that you don’t really think that of them at all. Maybe you’ll tell colleagues that you hate your job, despite finding it perfectly pleasant most of the time: do you want your words making their way through the office grapevine to your boss?
Tip for Helping: Try to treat anything that someone says in anger, or while upset, as something that they don’t really mean. If you do end up saying something that you regret, don’t be too hesitant to apologize once you’ve calmed down.
Talking Only Works if Someone Listens
Unfortunately, most people in the world are not good listeners – and I include myself here. When listening to someone, it’s easy to let your mind wander, or to stop concentrating on their words in order to think about what you’re going to say next. We often don’t even hear the actual words that are said – let alone the intention behind them, and the wealth of stuff that is implied.
You may get frustrated when you talk about your problems because people just don’t seem to understand. Perhaps they brush off the major issues as unimportant, and attend to the minor ones; perhaps they offer advice when all you wanted was someone to listen patiently. Maybe they’ve completely missed the point.
Tip for Helping: Learn how to listen actively. If you’re seeking help, try going to a life coach, counsellor or someone else who has been trained to listen and to help you work through problems.
Do you find that talking to someone when you’re in a bad mood helps you to feel better – or does it tend to make things worse? Have you been able to help people by listening to them when they’re going through a bleak spell?