Recently, an old acquaintance posted on social media an announcement that she was upset with her loved ones and friends for not responding to her depression. At first glance at her post, I was concerned that her support base might have dropped the ball. As I considered her words I noticed that she insinuated that her husband and friends should just know that she was having a difficult time and react to her accordingly. To be fair, I am not sure if she had intentionally provided any signals that should have caused a reaction, but it occurred to me that she may not have.
I can think back to messages from every pastor I have sat under that directed congregants to be more honest with their church cohorts. The messages usually identify that most people, when asked how they are, claim that life is perfect and blessed from one end to the other. These pastors asked questions like: “How can you expect your neighbor to love you if they don’t know what you need?” Or, “How can you bear one another’s burdens if you do not share them with each other?” For the most part, these messages go through one ear and out the other before the next service. Come next Sunday, everyone’s lives are perfect.
We do this also in our closest relationships. Most of us have had times when we were experiencing some mild pain, manageable fear, or uncommon sadness that put us in a somewhat melancholy state. And in many of those cases, we want mild, manageable, and uncommon to stay that way, so when asked, we say “I am fine” or “I just zoned-out for a moment – I’m good”. We are afraid that if we let it out in the open we will have to acknowledge it. Other times we do not want to be a burden to those closest to us, or we do not want our friends to think of us as anything but well adjusted.
What we may not realize is that we are erroneously conditioning those closest to us to avoid connecting with us when we need them most. Consider that the conditioning we impose on others when we are lightly affected by some minor pain, fear, or sadness may lead them to ignore our negative expressions and varying moods when conditions are more extreme. Over time, we may find ourselves alone except in the most extreme conditions. In fact, we often do not express extreme disequilibrium immediately following serious emotional trauma. For one who normally tries to hold back on their feelings, a significant emotional trauma might be expressed moderately at first, then escalate to a level that finally seems extreme to others. Up to this point, the distraught person is alone and feeling abandoned by those closest to them.
I can hear this person’s friends saying: “This just snuck up on us – we had no idea she was suffering so.” The best thing anyone is able to do at this point is to react to a condition with which they are completely unprepared to help. This is a lot like an experience I had a few weeks ago at a busy intersection during rush hour. I was about six vehicles from the red light that had 60 cars crammed into three lanes when an emergency vehicle started screaming for a way through the pile of cars. All of a sudden sixty drivers started looking for a way to help the screaming vehicle get through what instantly became a confusing mess. With more warnings from the emergency vehicle, all of the cars might have been able to create a better, less messy, way for the emergency vehicle to get through its challenge.
The moral of this story is that it is best, to be honest with your emotions, so those around you will not be suddenly thrown off balance and literally bouncing off of each other to help you through your traumas. If we will allow those close to us to experience our true lives with us, they will always be ready to help us with the little and big emotional challenges and trials that crop up from time to time. If your family and friends are not responding to your cries, consider how you have trained them over the years. Now, just tell someone who you know loves you, what you need. Simple?
Mark Painter MCM/PC