Author’s note: The bulk of this article was originally written for a stranger who had shared their struggle with suicidal thoughts, but I would give this same advice to anyone who struggles with mental health …or even just really big emotions! It doesn’t have to be extreme before it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on inside us.
It’s important to have someone you can be vulnerable with, even if they are anonymous. Everyone needs someone they can trust to tell their fears to. Many times the people we love feel uncomfortable when we share, so they don’t know what to do. They feel like their only options are to try to fix you, or to protect themselves from feeling so deeply, because it hurts so much. It takes a lot of strength to be with someone who is suffering and just allow it to run its course, even though often it’s the best thing they can do.
When you need to share your anxiety (and you need to) first tell the person what they can do for you. Preface the conversation with something like, “Can I share something with you? It’s awkward for me, and very personal, but I feel like I need to tell someone…” You might even add, “You don’t have to try to fix it or make it go away. All I really need is somebody to listen and be there.” (Or, if you know your Love Language, you could say that you just need a shoulder to lean on, or some words of encouragement, etc.)
This step of getting “permission” can save you from heartache and embarrassment. It prepares them to be there for you, and by answering affirmatively, they have committed to it. You can often gauge from someone’s reaction whether they are interested or cannot be trusted. It’s probably normal to see fidgeting, or even lack of eye contact (they might just need a moment to adjust to the intensity), but someone who scoffs, shakes their head, changes the subject or just plain walks away isn’t ready yet. On the other hand, someone who can maintain their focus, or even increases their attentiveness when they hear your words, is preparing themselves to be there for you. The same people who might seem cruel when they don’t know what to do with themselves have the potential to be good to you if they have enough clarity (and if they aren’t surrounded by negative peer pressure).
Keep in mind you are more likely to get a negative response if the person you are planning to talk to is the person who is causing the problem you’d like to talk about. Sometimes, when you’re feeling stepped on our disregarded, you just need someone else to speak up to them on your behalf. A third party could also help you find the words to be assertive, yet kind. You might share with your trusted confidante that you’re not trying to make anyone look bad, but you would like guidance on how to gently work out the situation. (PS, coaches can be good for this, too!)
The important thing is not to wait until you are near the breaking point. It’s important to tell someone at the first sign of trouble, so you have time for several “failed” tries to share your troubles if you realize you either can’t trust someone, or they aren’t emotionally ready for you. By searching for help right away, there is still time to keep trying until you find someone who understands that you need someone who cares, long before you’re at your breaking point. This is a skill. You will get better at it, and so will they.
Another note: Often adolescents don’t understand how to get our attention, and if you have a very angry adolescent on your hands, consider taking the time to teach them how best to get your attention, rather than just reacting badly when they start badly. Often when they’re being a problem, it’s because they’re having a problem. When you’re prepared, you can respond to them in a helpful frame of mind, you won’t accidentally dismiss a problem or get defensive and start a whole new problem. It is one of the best lessons they can learn, because it helps them get the help they need, now and into adulthood.
I am an avid student of interpersonal communication, and I believe the way we get someone’s attention is every bit as critical as the thing we have to say. Believe that the other person wants to help you. Help them help you.
I pray you will find a trusted confidante. It could a be a sister or brother, maybe you haven’t communicated with in a while. Get their permission before you disclose, and it could be nearly anyone you’d expect you could trust. Be a strength to them, too, when they fall on hard times, as well as when they need someone by their side to celebrate life’s good moments. Happiness isn’t as joyful when you have no one to share it with. Share the joy they have to offer. ♥️