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I think I want to print out your articles and hand them out as a sort of relationship waiver form. “You want to be my friend?….You are interesting in going out? Here read this first. Sign here to acknowledge that you have read and understand the enclosed material. Thank you.” Seriously. I think it would work. — Guerin Moorman
Guerin Moorman

“I was struggling with my daughter (16 at the time) and our constant fighting. You said something to me that changed my life! You were speaking about your own situation and you said to me “my child could not handle my emotions”. This was a HUGE “lightbulb moment” for me and it forever changed the way I dealt with my emotions when I was around my daughter!

I am happy to say that things have never been better between my soon to be 18 year old daughter and myself! I honestly never thought we would…

Mom M
This is me. This is me from the day I was born. For so long I felt misunderstood and rejected, even by the people closest to me, because they could never understand my need for solitude, and I had no idea how to explain it to them. Even now that I know more about Introversion and have a more informed understanding of my hard-wired need for solitude, it’s still very difficult sometimes to help my loved ones understand this profound craving for time and space all to myself. This is one of the best…
Sharon
Your words are my lifeline.  I sit down to your posts and as I read I can feel my acceptance of myself and my needs grow.  Your words validate my feelings about my life, motherhood, relationships and it is something I hold onto.  And during the times when I feel like I am not able to be a mother or a wife or a sister or a friend or whatever someone needs me to be, I go back to your words and find some peace…I send your posts to my husband when I need him to understand that I love him but I need …
D.R.
BRENDA: thank you SO much! Your advice is exactly what I need to do. I am amazed how much you “get” me after only exchanging a few messages!… Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me more than a year of therapy sessions! – Megan on space2live
Megan
I met Brenda and took the MBTI… I had a fairly good understanding of these types before the meeting but was impressed by the depth of knowledge that Brenda shared with me. She clearly has a passion for this work and a gift in imparting the information. There have been doors opened for me because of our talks… — Alan Hintermeister
Alan Hintermeister
Thank you for all the words. You’ve created the magic drug I’ve been looking for all my life. Your blog has transformed my life, and I feel like I am on the brink of a most satisfying fulfilling journey…You’ve made me see everything in a new light. I now feel calmer, able to care better for my toddler, less hateful of people around, and hopeful for my future. I am not so afraid for our marriage anymore. — Shilpa CB
Shilpa CB
Your site has saved my sanity and my life. Maybe even my marriage. I work part time and have two young boys at home, my husband is supportive of me but until recently I thought I was going crazy. … Reading your writing not only inspires me to pick up the pen again, but gives me nourishment in the deepest places. I will fight for balance. Everything you write is spot on… And wellness is so incredibly multifaceted.  I was ready to give up hope, but understanding myself through your words is bring…
J.K.
Because of your blog, I know that it is possible for me to have the love that I want one day and that I don’t have to be alone.  — Indepthwoman  on space2live
Indepthwoman
THANK YOU….. you just summed up my swirling thoughts into something i can read with out everything else in my head meshing with it. I finally feel like i can explain what happens within without getting distracted. I’m an Introvert with ADD and it makes it so hard to explain quite what im feeling sometimes. — M.G. on space2live
M.G.

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Empathy and Action: Helping Others Out of Anxiety or Depression

My mother went through bouts of depression, especially after my sister and I left the house. We provided pleasure and purpose for her. We also were her main source of emotional support. Even after my sister and I left home, we did our best to keep Mom in good spirits. We were not very successful.

As I reflect on our methods of supporting Mom, I realize each of us gave her half of what she needed. I was quick with empathy and soothing words. I listened to her sadness and made her feel valued. She did the same for me. I encouraged Mom to volunteer and go for walks but was not there to join her or actually get her out of the house. I did not emphasize the action part. It did not feel as natural to me.

My sister was more action oriented. She lived closer to Mom and invited her out. She had Mom help her with her kids, encouraged her to exercise and invited her to family events. Empathy and sympathy were harder for my sister to administer.

We offered support but it was not consistent or complete. She slipped into depression.

Enabling and rescuing

I now know through research and personal experience, that empathy with no action steps allows irresponsible behavior to continue and it disempowers the individual. I have written about rescuing people. Always fighting someone’s battles or stepping in with an excuse, takes away their power. They need support and challenge.

Shame of not following through

My mother tried to take some action. She signed up to volunteer at an after school program. She would get on walking kicks every few years to try to lose weight, but after a while she would give up. She didn’t have enough support to keep her doing the uncomfortable activities. When she gave up, she felt even worse about herself. She failed and she was never going to get out of the low feelings she felt. Shame just added to the depression.

Safety first

Every book, webinar, podcast or article I’ve explored on anxiety and depression, says start with safety and  graduate to taking action. We can’t learn or take action if our brains are paralyzed with fear.

Empathy offers safety. It shows we see the person and the feelings they experience. It makes them relax and open to change and healing.

We are with you

The next key ingredient after empathy is a sense of having someone on our side. It is very difficult to do challenging things alone. We like to feel like we have a team or at least someone on our side. We feel resourced when we have someone to turn to.

Marriage and Family Therapist, Terry Real says, men need forthrightness and a lifeline. For men in particular, he says they need to know where they are messing up, but also that they are held in warm regard. For example, a wife might tell her husband, You scare the children with your anger, but underneath that anger you are someone we cherish.” It is not enough to just tell someone they are loved though, we must find genuine moments of appreciation and express our feelings then.

And… action!

For much of my life, the action part was the hardest to make happen, especially if it was at all challenging. I’m a good thinker and a master at collecting information. I can empathize with and listen to people forever. I could take action if other people did it with me.

I remember working as a Guardian Ad Litem with the juvenile court system. A big part of my job was to find programs (chemical dependency, anger management, parenting classes, etc.) for negligent parents to take part in so they could get better and get their children back. I listened to the parents tell their tales of woe and then struggled to get them to attend the classes. I didn’t know the class options that well and I did not know how to motivate the adults to get their butts to the classes. I thought losing their kids would do it, but it did not. So as you can see, I have even had a hard time getting OTHER people to take action!

Self-motivation

Now, years later, I have more skills in this area. I know myself better and what it takes to make me move — usually something I value. I have also taken more leaps into the unknown and survived, therefore, I have less fear around taking action.

Getting others to take action

When it comes to getting others out of low drive or depression, here are a few successful tactics I’ve learned:

  1. Make sure they feel safe and loved for who they are.
  2. Show them the patterns that occur when they are depressed or highly anxious. For example, perhaps they sleep a lot or stop doing things with friends. Show them they have control over these patterns. They have to break the patterns to escape the downward spiral. Show them sleeping a lot or staying in isolation are meant to protect them from pain but they are keeping them from what they need — support and engagement with life.
  3. Find out what or whom they love and ask them how their depression affects those things. How can they increase interactions with those things or people they love? Need to shift from too much internal focus to outside focus.
  4. Interrupting the pattern of shutting down or withdrawal. If they shut down physically and emotionally when stressed, they need to reconnect with emotions and fight or flight responses. If you feel anger in your body, safely express it, don’t suppress it. If your body wants to run or tense up, let it. Don’t slump, sleep or slip out. Sit up, stay and fight in the moment. 
  5. Ask them to notice what they are experiencing as they experience it. This is presence. When they feel pleasure, they should take note of it. When they do something fulfilling or purposeful, it is important to notice that feeling too. It helps escape the worries of the future (anxiety) and the regrets of the past (depression).
  6. Invite them out. Help them stay longer in the discomfort of a new or challenging activity. Let them know you are on their side. Show them they can survive. Remind them of difficult situations they have already managed — a move to a new city or starting a new job.

Empathy and action keep us seeking

We cannot heal without support and connection. My friends and family have given me boatloads of empathy over the years. A few have given me a kick in the pants when I needed it too. Both gave me the nerve and energy to keep seeking new adventures and opportunities. Both allowed me to avoid long-term depression and anxiety.

How do you stay above depression or high anxiety? Do you only offer empathy but step aside when it comes to getting a friend to take action? How good are you at keeping yourself engaged with people and life? 

 

** All photos courtesy of Unsplash.

 

Are you (or do you want to be) an entrepreneur, writer, or some kind of other full-time creative introvert? Want to take your game to the next level? Grab a seat for the Quiet Overflow Summit to hear from 20 top-notch introvert influencers and do just that! http://quietoverflow.com/. 

The interviews will air two per day from September 24th to October 5th. And you can watch all of them for FREE if you sign up before September 24. Disclaimor: I am one of the speakers for this summit. My talk will run on September 25th. Check it out!

 

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2 Comments

  1. Kat September 22, 2018 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Brenda,
    This is an interesting subject!
    It brought me back to how being ‘action focused’ when helping a depressed friend, caused me to lose my friendship with one of my friends a while back!

    I tried so hard to breath motivation. I tried so hard to support and find solutions. I even offered accompanying my friend to go and confront the source of her agony! I felt, she was allowing herself to be a victim to someone who took advantage of her passive approach to the situation! I felt very strongly about it all! To me, my friend was in distress, due to her work contractor deciding to simply break off all the rules that constituted their agreement!! Leaving her to face all the consequences…alone. I watched her wallowing in self-pity! It internally infuriated me. Considering my approach to the situation would’ve been entirely different! I finally managed to convince her to confront the contractor and act strong! It actually worked!!! And she was very happy it did! I in return, felt my persistence to show her the way paid off! It was such an amazing moment.

    Fast forward a month after, it all fell apart again! And she was exactly where she was a month before! Feeling let down and becoming depressed!
    After that, every time I would see her, I would sense her depression worsening; and whenever I’d try to tell her she needs to believe more in herself because she ‘does have the qualifications’ etc etc..she would end up arguing with me and insisting she does not! She was simply busy convincing herself ‘she’s not good enough’. How do you reason with someone like that? No matter how much you care about them, you can’t get throug!

    In the end, I lost my patience. Not a proud moment to say the least. I acted sarcastically during a conversation, and I wasn’t my usual ‘kind’ self. She took it personally and I can’t blame her for that.

    My frustration with not being able to convince her, or at least show her what she needs to do to get out of her depression, manifested itself through challenging her views a bit harshly perhaps! Then thinking I can cover it up with my usual humour! Needless to say, I only managed to hurt her instead!

    She demanded an apology, and I complied. Then she wanted to meet face to face to discuss it and save our friendship, I cowardly denied her that opportunity and decided to avoid the confrontation! My excuse to her, and ‘to myself’ /lousy excuse of course/ was, I was never good at confrontation! I’ve always preferred avoidance and basically..running away for good instead! So yes I did apologize to her, but I decided to run away from her friendship right after, due to me valuing ‘action’ more than just words of empathy.

    My focus on action, faced by the opposite from her side, and all that combined with having to watch her suffer when the solution ‘is right there’! caused me to run. Not proud of how I approached it in the end. You can’t ‘make’ someone do things that seem so clear and so doable to ‘you’ unless they want to work with you! They need to take action to change their situation, if they refuse to meet you half way and at least try! There’s not much that you can do.

    • Brenda Knowles September 27, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply

      I totally understand your frustration with your friend. It is tough to watch someone wallow in pain, get out and then wallow again. Do you think you did not offer enough empathy? Does your friend not have good boundaries or self-discipline? I know many people resent offers to fix their problems. They feel like they are being mothered or that they are seen as inadequate. It is a delicate dance, offering compassion and encouraging action. I’ve read that men particularly like to feel competent and do not want someone telling them what to do. They want to feel trusted to handle it. I’m sure women feel that way too. Having grown up with a family that were not really fixers, I appreciate true solutions sometimes. It’s nice to feel loved no matter what our problems are though too.
      I don’t blame you for giving your friend some tough love. The truth is no one changes without taking action. She’ll have to decide how and when to do that.

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