Tuesday, 8 March 2011

'Being with' people

A bit of psychology / counselling jargon for y'all today. 'Being with' people refers to how we relate to someone who is going through a difficulty of some kind. The idea is that a person who is feeling down usually has the internal strength to pick themselves up again, but they might need help to do this. And the way we can help is by 'being with' them, sharing and 'validating' their emotional distress; 'It's okay that you feel like this, and I'm here with you'.

What we don't do is urge someone to pull themselves together or point out to them that so many other people are in much worse situations. People often respond negatively when they are forced or urged to cheer up. For me, it sounds like I'm being told the emotions I'm feeling are silly or selfish, that I am somehow in the wrong to feel as I do.

I had a vague appreciation of this idea already but I recently saw a great film clip that brought it home brilliantly. The clip showed two different ways of relating to a baby in distress. In the first section, the adult tried to distract the baby from its crying by waving a toy around and being very upbeat. It was filmed as if from the baby's perspective and the viewers were invited to say how it made them feel. Annoyed and patronised was my answer!

In the second clip, the adult matched their behaviour and tone of voice to the baby's emotional state, trying to acknowledge how the baby was feeling. So when the baby looked sad, the adult talked slowly and put on a somewhat sad face. Then when the baby seemed more cheerful, the adult followed. It felt so calm, peaceful and 'right', if you know what I mean. I should just say that it was all about the child, though; the adult wasn't saying, 'Oh, I'm sad too' or, 'Hey look, I'm happy now as well'. That's another unhelpful way of relating to people who need our support!

1 comment:

  1. yep spot-on Kevin - again - perceptive. True. Empathy without being patronising, being AWARE of how someone may be feeling, and not assuming that their reactions to a situation are the same as yours are also important. What is trivial to you might be deeply affecting me for example. And it rarely helps to 'remind' people of how lucky they are or tell them they've nothing to be depressed about... All emotion is valid, its what you do with it/about it that is key. I know. One of the big factors of being Borderline Personality is that sense of invalidation. That its not okay to be 'you' and that its not okay to feel the way you do.