This is one of the first questions I encourage people to ask of themselves when things go seriously wrong.
Why is this such a big deal? When facing a significant problem one of the worst mistakes you can make is to try to handle it alone. You will need support from others to tether you safely to the ground, as well as to find perspective and understanding about how to approach the problem.
Who should you look for? There is more than one category of person, and talking to several different people may be important.
Look for someone who will offer comfort. When we’re in pain (and we are when things go wrong) we need comfort and reassurance. Comfort is important. In fact, it’s interesting to see how much of our lives are devoted to seeking comfort. We eat comfort food, stay in Comfort Inn’s, wear comfortable clothes, and use thermostats to keep our houses comfortable. When things go wrong we need the presence and support of others to feel reassured that our life still has a future that is good and hopeful. We also need to be calm enough to be able to think. Emotional comfort helps us to do that.
Look for someone who is skilled in handling your specific type of problem, or at least problems in general. This is critical! Even Googling your problem on the internet can bring up a surprising amount of information about most problems. Of course, talking face to face with someone is still important. It can take some time to locate a good “advisor” or guide, but do so.
Alcoholics Anonymous is great at helping members find their way out of unmanageability, fear, and confusion. Members often serve as a sounding board for one another and offer feedback from their own experience. I had a client several years ago who, when he would have a problem, would talk to three other members of AA who had faced a similar problem before deciding what to do. He listened for what worked for them, for lessons learned, and for suggestions for perspective and action. The combination of their care and their wisdom often worked for him.
Also, don’t be afraid of getting professional help when it is needed, whether it is for mental health or for the plumbing in your home. And speak up honestly to the professional. I tell clients who have illnesses that frighten them to tell their doctor that they are scared. They report that a simple, honest statement about fear often brings our a humanity in their doctor that they have not seen…both by way of offering more information and listening well to their questions.
In cases where the results of a particular problem are far-reaching over time, look for others who at some level share the same problem. You will take great comfort in their fellowship and find that the social aspects of sharing can enrich your life greatly. You will also get concrete help in dealing with your challenge by their experiences and learning, and at times enjoy a shared sense of humor that makes difficult things more palatable.
In addition to the above there are other character traits that you will want to look for in others. Here are a few suggestions:
Look for someone who can keep confidences. This is one of the most important positive qualities to look for when feeling vulnerable. You can assume that someone who gossips about others may well gossip about you. You might not want to seek out a person like this when a matter is sensitive to you. Be plain-spoken about your desire to retain control over who knows about about the matter at hand. Your information is yours…it is not others to give away. And in problematic times you will want to have control over who knows about your difficulties to preserve your sense of safety.
Avoid people who tend to panic. I’ve made the mistake of talking to people who actually increased my anxiety about a problem rather than reduce it. Ouch. This may keep some of those who care a lot about you from being very helpful. You do not want to have to calm down your listener! Rather, look for a listener/advisor who will stay calm and let you tell your story.
Avoid people who are judgmental or try to “fix” you. People who judge quickly tend not to be good at listening; rather, they move quickly to solutions that you could come up with yourself, or they criticize you for being upset. I won’t go into this more at the present time, but by and large judgmental people can be hard to deal with in times of distress.
All of the positive traits listed above won’t necessarily be found in one person, and some of the negative traits may be found in those who are helpful to you. There may be no “perfect” person to talk to. However, it is important to start somewhere. You can also ask others about whom to seek out for a conversation. There’s always a place to start.
Thanks for reading! The rest of the questions will follow soon.