In our world today, it has become normative to mask our emotions. It is easier for most to say that they are okay to avoid the intense scrutiny about what could be going wrong in their lives; so, we tend to consistently try to make ourselves or others “feel better.” We are driven by compassion and empathy, but these two can often be misdirected and instead, we project our idea of “okay” onto ourselves and other people. Even on the heel of emotional loss and grief, we are given the advice to “Be Strong”, Don’t cry,” It is Okay. What would it look like to simply allow persons to feel all they need to feel in those moments of pain?
What would it look like, if we allow persons to just not be OKAY?
When we are sick, we know to take medicine to feel better. But what if we are emotionally sick or in pain? There is no physical medicine to take. There is no concrete action that is always available to us. But often, seeking out a solution to our pain will simply cause us to put off the inevitable process of feeling our feelings.
Whatever the pain is, it is imperative that we take adequate time to process and show up in our feelings, for as long as it takes to allow us to actively engage in processing, so that we can eventually heal; failure to do so will allow for repeated mistakes and developing patterns of perpetual pain. For instance, if you go through a break-up with a significant other and refuse to allow yourself to feel that pain, you are likely to cause harm to the next person you date or sabotage your relationship with the new person. Instead, actively processing and allowing yourselves to show up for your emotions is what heals all wounds.
Is this comfortable? Absolutely not. Is it vital for emotional growth? Without a doubt. How often do we respond to the question “How are you?” with a simple, “I’m fine,” or even, “Not great but I know this too shall pass—so I’m fine.” But are you really?
I remember when I lost my mom, I was in a dark place and though I wanted to just say I am fine, every time I was asked, How I was; I knew it was not going to be helpful to my healing process. I had to admit first to myself that I was not OKAY. Then I had to be honest with my feelings to those significant people in my life and seek the support I needed. I couldn’t be the strong one at that time; I couldn’t even be the psychologist, even my faith was shaken. I had to take the time to step back and face my pain. I was not okay.
In facing when you are not ok, do not shy away from seeking help. Speaking with someone helps to place your pain into perspective and allows you to not only own the pain but take responsibility and accountability in your healing process.
What to do if someone tells you they are not okay: –
Stop and listen, with curiosity and compassion.
We underestimate the power of simply listening to someone else when they’re going through a rough time. You don’t need to be an expert with 10 years of study in psychology to be a good listener. Here are some tips:
o Listen actively. Pay attention, be present and allow the person time to speak.
o Be curious. Ask about the person’s experience using open questions such as: “What’s been going on lately?” “You don’t seem your usual self, how are you doing/feeling?”
o Validate their concerns. See the situation from the person’s perspective and try not to dismiss their problems or feelings as unimportant or stupid.
Don’t try to fix the problem right now
Often our first instinct is wanting to fix the person’s problems. It hurts to see others in pain, and we can feel awkward or helpless not knowing how to help. But you don’t have to have all the answers.
Instead of jumping into “fix it” mode right away, accept the conversation may be uncomfortable and allow the person to speak about their difficulties and experiences.
Sometimes it’s not the actual suggestion or practical help that’s most useful but giving the person a chance to talk openly about their struggles. Also, the more we understand the person’s experience, the more likely we are to be able to offer the right type of help.
Encourage them to seek help from you
“How can I help?”
“Is there something I can do for you right now?”
Sometimes it’s about keeping them company (making plans to do a pleasant activity together), providing practical support (help minding their kids to give them time out), or linking them in with other health professionals.
Check whether they need urgent help.
It’s possible this person is suffering more than you realize: they may be contemplating suicide or self-harm. Asking about suicidal thoughts does not worsen those thoughts, but instead can help ease distress.
It’s OK to ask them if they’re thinking about suicide but try not to be judgmental (“you’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?”). Listen to their responses without judgment and let them know you care, and you’d like to help.
Encourage them to seek professional help.
Know when the help needed is beyond your scope and suggest that they speak with a counselor or psychologist. If they are reluctant to go alone, be their support by going along with them.
Just know that it is okay to not be OKAY all the time. It is just important to recognize when the pain is beyond what you can handle; and remind yourself that you can stop for a while, feel what you need to feel but be committed to the HEALING in the end.