We can partner with a trusted friend or someone in our small group. We can set a time and turn off our phones. But where do we start?
Kensington has tapped the expertise of our Counselor Referral Network and other experts and developed a tool to help. It’s a starting place with ground rules and best practices for both the speaker and the listener so that a conversation can begin and some of the emotional pain and grief can be released.
Let me give you a little advice on how to get the most out of it:
If you are the one Sharing – it can be tricky to get started because it can all feel overwhelming. Be kind to yourself and start with something small and specific. Leave the long-term family dysfunction for another day and pick something you noticed in the last 24 hours. Even if you don’t have the perfect words right away, there are great resources to help you identify the feeling – and naming it is where processing can begin.
Listener – in many ways, you are the keeper of the other person’s soul in that moment – there’s a real vulnerability that opens up. Part of your role is to honor and protect it.
They have to do their own work. You can’t fix what they are feeling, but you can encourage and empower them to process it. You can offer them words like “tell me more about that” or gently remind them of their “share well” pointers.
But mostly, you are there to maintain the safety of the space. Let me quickly drill down a bit on a few things that can get you off track:
Broken Confidentiality — that should be self-explanatory. What is shared must stay there (unless, of course they’re talking about hurting themselves – get professional help if that happens). When a person is processing disappointment, it can come out in ways that they wouldn’t share on social media. Don’t even share what you hear with your spouse or partner.
Judgment – Remember you are dealing primarily with emotions, which are neither good nor bad. Even when the person sharing says something uncomfortable, remember that they are trying to put words to their feelings – don’t stop them in the middle of the process.
Fixing – Even if you can see it, don’t give them the solution. They will own it if they discover it themselves – even if that takes more time.
Toxic Positivity – There’s an old adage in recovery circles that says we are only as sick as the stuff we don’t talk about. Like it or not, unpleasant emotions are real and denying them only makes them grow. There is space later on for choosing gratitude, but we need to embrace the reality of all of our emotions.
Comparative Grief – I’m guilty of this one all the time. I say, “I have a home, a family and we are all safe. Considering the suffering I see every day, I have nothing to complain about.” That is patently untrue. Comparing our pain is fruitless; but if I can be honest about my own, I can be more present for others. And even if the pain I’m processing is relatively mild at the moment, I’m building important skills for when things get harder.
By the way, if you feel energized and strong as you listen to and encourage someone who needs a safe person, you may want to consider joining Kensington’s Pastoral Care Team as a Stephen Minister. If you’d like to find out more, please email us.
For Both of You – I’ll say it again: turn off your phones. Also, remember to switch roles when the time is right.