How do we talk to, and be with, someone who is upset and distressed?

Topic for Today - How do we talk to, and be with, someone who is upset and distressed?


In a recent interview with Radio Tees, Iain Caldwell CEO of H&ED Mind was asked what should we do if a friend, family member, or even a stranger comes to us upset and distressed.  He was asked “How should we speak to them what should we say or do?”



The answer was very simple, but perhaps not what the interviewer expected.  Iain talked about not necessarily having to do or say anything.  He reminded us all that sometimes all that is needed is someone to be with, someone to listen, someone to understand and acknowledge the feelings being experienced.



We can think about this for ourselves, when we have been sad and upset about a difficulty, a loss, an upset.  Often, we do not need an answer, action or someone to fix it, what we need is someone to listen, someone to just let us talk and give us space to better understand what is happening, for ourselves.



This can be difficult.  It is hard to see someone in distress and natural to try to want to help, but just pause, think about the situation and ask yourself the question: What does this person need right now? And if you are unsure you could even ask them.

Literally: “What can I do right now? Would you like me to just listen to you or is there something else?”



Practically, finding some tissues, offering a cup of tea or glass of water, moving to a quieter space can be helpful to calming the whole situation and help the person better be able to speak.  Even if you are on the phone, you can stay on the line and still do these things to give a bit of space and time to prepare for the conversation.


So, if you start by letting go of the need to fix or solve what the other person is distressed or upset about, you are much better prepared to properly listen to them.



This might include just sitting quietly while someone cries or sitting in silence as they work to find the right words to express what they are feeling.  If they are very upset they may be exhausted from carrying it with them or from trying to keep quiet about it.  If they are very upset it can take a little longer for their mind to calm and be able to find the words they need.



Sitting in silence may feel a little odd, but silence can provide the person with the space they need and it is you demonstrating to them, that you are literally, there for them, not expecting anything, not pressuring for anything, just being with them.  Offering them your presence and your compassion.



There may come a point when the person wants to talk about how they can change their situation or deal with a problem.  You may have lots of ideas and thoughts but generally, change in difficult situations, needs to come from the person themselves.  Being told “you should” or “what you need to do is” can leave people feeling lost and even worse.  They are already feeling bad, a sense of not knowing what to do or failing to do what you say can, make things even harder.



What you could do, if you feel the time is right, is to say something like:


“I am so sorry you feel like this, do you think there is anything that could be done about it?”


“This is obviously very painful for you, do you have any ideas for how it might change?”


This might lead to some practical steps for change, but be careful not to push, somethings just take time.



And please remember, sometimes people are suffering because they are having, or have had, a really horrible time, this is completely normal, and what they really need at this point, is to feel “heard” and “cared for”, that “they matter” and are “understood”.




What about experts?


Some people get very confused or anxious when they recognise someone is distressed or unhappy.   They might think that they are not a good person to talk to.  That everyone who is upset should see a counsellor or a therapist, a psychologist or even a psychiatrist, and that they certainly are not equipped to deal with it.  But the truth is, the vast majority of what drives us to unhappiness, distress and upset is completely understandable.  We lack or lacked love, we are not cared for or about, bad things have happened to us, we are living in very difficult situations.  This is not unusual or extraordinary - we look around and know that lives are difficult and that everyone, at different times, struggles to make sense of our world.



Depending on our age and life experience we all have a pretty good grasp of this truth, and knowing it for yourself means you are able to understand it with others.   We do not have the same experience or story, but we understand the importance of love and connection, care and purpose.



So if you are worried about someone then please call us to discuss, but do not be afraid to sit by someone and be there for them. It is an act of kindness that will be appreciated.  And not being able to "fix" someone does not mean that you have not helped.



Self protection and self care?


Just to note that sometimes an individual may say something that you find upsetting and / or worries you.  Or perhaps the same person is having the same conversation over and over again with you and you are feeling over loaded by that.


Then please give us a call so that we can help you to deal with that or to discuss if that person might need some different support.



But do remember if you think someone might harm themselves or someone else then click on “urgent help” above to get extra advice.



Ok, well those are our thoughts for today, take care, stay safe, well, kind, creative and connected!



Don’t go out if we don’t absolutely need to (i.e. for food basics), keep a safe distance (2 meters) from the other people around us. Keep smiling, waving and talking. Wash hands and avoid touching faces when out and about. 


Anything we can do to stop and slow the virus is keeping more of us safe and literally saving lives. 


If you have symptoms, stay inside and contact 111 or the website to get more advice.



Look forward to speaking again soon (tomorrow we will be looking at “dealing with disappointment” during lock down)

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