March 2006
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How Talking Helps
 

Since I am a psychologist, it is obvious to me how talking helps people. However, the benefits of talking are not apparent to many people. In fact, some folks are so negative about seeing a therapist that they openly say, “Talking is a waste of time.” But talking does help.

Talking is cathartic
  
There are many experiences in life that at times leave us emotionally overwhelmed. At these times, we walk around feeling emotionally charged up and filled with tension. Frequently, what has happened to us cannot be changed, such as when someone we love dies, a tragic accident occurs or we have learned we have a terrible illness. When these experiences descend upon us, we feel emotionally frozen. We find ourselves stuck in a state of despair and pain. At these times, talking can help.

There is a word that captures how talking helps—catharsis. Talking leads to a catharsis, which means a feeling of relief. The charged feelings within us become less charged. Nothing has changed that caused the suffering in our lives, but talking has drained off some of the pain and this brings relief.

It makes you feel better

When I was a new counselor, I didn’t fully understand the power of talking. I would be surprised when people left my office saying, “I feel better now.” I would think to myself, “How could they feel better? I did nothing but listen.” Over the years I came to appreciate that listening to others is far from doing nothing. Listening gives people an opportunity to tell their story, and, in the telling, they find relief and a quieting of their emotions.

I have many stories of how people benefit from talking, but the story that follows is one I will never forget.

Years ago, a woman in her late 40s arrived in my office. She related that after a prolonged illness with cancer, her 21-year-old son died. I could see the despair and grief she was feeling. With tears in her eyes, she told me she could not talk to her husband or her daughter because they couldn’t bear to think about their loss. “I need to talk to someone,” she said. “I need to tell someone about my son, how I cared for him during his illness and how he died.” I agreed to listen.

For the next two months, this mother arrived for her appointment each week. She started her story with her pregnancy and took me a step at a time through the life of her son. I listened. My eyes were focused on her and her feelings became my feelings. At times I smiled with her and at times my eyes, like her eyes, were filled with tears.

She ended her story by telling me how she spread her son’s ashes over her garden that she loved so much. When our last session ended, she stood up, grabbed my hand and thanked me for helping her. She was so appreciative. She left my office and I have never seen her again, but her story stays with me. Talking helped her.  

Talking leads to new solutions

Talking helps in other ways, too. Many times when we talk with a friend, a family member or a therapist, we are stuck. We don’t know what to do. But as we talk, we hear ourselves express feelings and information that have not been expressed before. It is this experience of hearing ourselves that allows us at times to suddenly think of what to do. A solution pops into our mind.

In my practice, I ask people a lot of questions to keep them talking about what troubles them so they might discover their own solution. Very often, they are surprised how they suddenly think of how to solve the problem. It is not unusual for me to hear a statement such as, “You know, doctor, something I never thought of before just hit me.”      

Self-talk

Believe it or not, talking to ourselves can be very beneficial. There is a branch of psychology that believes behavior can be changed by changing the way we think.

That’s why some therapists recommend self-talk to their clients as a strategy to help change the way they think. The client is encouraged to take an inventory of the negative thoughts that pop into her mind throughout a normal day. Then the therapist and client together work out a series of positive statements to counteract the negative statements. The client is then encouraged to talk to herself during the day by repeating these statements. It is a lot like re-programming a computer. Old thoughts that are counterproductive are erased and new thoughts that are positive and constructive are entered into the mind.

Resource

Powerful Self-Talk, Change Your Self-Talk, Change Your Life by Michael J. Russ. Audio CD. www.powerfulliving.org.

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Benefits of Social Interactions
 

"People who need people …" is more than just a phrase from a popular song. Having friends and outside interests can make a difference in living longer and healthier lives.

Everyone needs to feel loved and supported-especially as we grow older. As we age, friends truly can be lifesavers. The friend who brings the chicken soup makes as much difference in feeling better faster as the soup itself. Conversation, sharing, being in touch with others who have active, involved lives gives living a purpose. Sharing with friends helps multiply the joys and divide the sorrows.

Large, extended families that were often available for support are now fewer. The number of one-person households has increased. People often move far from their families to work or retire. But staying connected to family, friends and activities has never been more important.

Several studies report fewer colds, lower blood pressure and lower heart rates in participants with strong social ties. Statistics show that marriage, perhaps the strongest tie, adds years to life expectancy. And suicide, mental illness and alcoholism rates are much lower when people feel a sense of belonging. Evidence of the benefits of social interactions was found in these studies:

  • In one study, medical students who were assigned to work in pairs had lower stress levels than those who were assigned to work alone.
  • Another study reported that elderly people who like to eat out, go to movies and take part in other social activities live an average of two and a half years longer than people who spend most of their time alone. The physical health benefits of socializing were equal to physical exercise, even though the social activities involved almost no physical exertion. It wasn't physical activity or physical health but feeling worthwhile that led to longer life. Good health and eating counted, but it was social interaction that was responsible for the results.
  • In one experiment, paid volunteers had a cold virus sprayed in their noses. The people with very few or no social contacts were four times more likely to come down with cold symptoms than those with lots of social contacts.

E-mail, video conferencing and chat rooms have allowed people to stay in touch with friends and relatives and even create relationships with people they haven't met. These cyber-friends can provide support, involvement and encouragement. Help with emotional problems is available on the Internet, and seeking this kind of help will become more common. Perhaps people's need for connection explains the popularity of computers and e-mail, even in aging populations. Grandparents of many ages feel great satisfaction in "logging on" to talk to their grandchildren.

Tutoring, mentoring, playing cards, walking, singing together, sitting and talking, having a student pen pal at a local school, going to the movies, joining a book discussion group, volunteering or working at a paid job are ways to become or stay involved. Friendship, love and support are lifelines to be shared. It's never too soon to start building relationships.

By Ellen Gold
© 1999 Lifescape. All rights reserved.


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Talking About Your Feelings: Dos and Don'ts
 

Feelings. They sometimes hurt, other times delight, often confuse and usually resist efforts to control them. They emanate from chemicals in your brain and are greatly influenced by your thoughts, your biology and your environment. Perhaps you’ll never quite control your feelings, but you can learn to manage them, for the most part. And one helpful way to do so is to express them. Read more to learn how to:

  • talk about your feelings in a way that benefits you and others
  • avoid common mistakes when expressing your feelings

Why you should express your feelings

Why is it so important to talk about one’s feelings? Is it a sign of weakness to do so? Not at all, according to mental health research. Letting feelings “out” by talking about them with a trusted friend or counselor strengthens you, both physically and emotionally. Dr. Edmund Bourne, author of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, warns that holding your feelings in might cause you to suffer anxiety, depression, headache, high blood pressure and more. Bourne adds that learning to identify and express feelings can reduce or even eliminate such symptoms.

Some “dos” to consider

Before you talk about your feelings, you must know what they are. Are you feeling sad or frustrated? Lonely or disappointed? If possible, spend some time alone thinking about your feelings, tuning in to your mind and body. Come up with specific words that describe exactly how you feel—write them down if it helps.

When you talk about your feelings, it also might help to:

  • Describe the degree of your feelings—are you furious or mildly irritated?
  • Use “I” messages: “I feel _________ when __________.”
  • Take full responsibility for your feelings, rather than blame others. Even if their behavior bothers you, your feelings are uniquely yours to express and to manage.
  • If possible, choose a “safe” audience—someone who is willing to listen and to do so without interrupting or judging you.
  • Talk to a clergyman, counselor or mental health professional if your feelings overwhelm you and disrupt your life.

Dr. Larry Nadig, a California-based psychologist, maintains that using “I” messages is the most effective way you can express your feelings productively, as well as take responsibility for them. Nadig admits that this technique is awkward to use at first, but gets easier with practice.

A few “don’ts”

As beneficial to you as it is to talk about your feelings, there are some cautions to consider. For example, Dr. Nadig suggests that you avoid using “you” messages intentionally or disguised as “I” messages—“I feel ______ because you always _________.” To enhance your well-being and benefit the most from talking about your feelings, it may also help to avoid the following:

  • talking “at” or blaming the listener
  • forcing an unwilling person to listen to you
  • re-hashing an upsetting event over and over—repeatedly talking about it might rekindle negative feelings that you had vented with the first telling
  • confusing the listener with your body language—such as smiling when you are angry
  • talking only about negative feelings
  • expecting others to feel the same way you do
  • demanding that others share their feelings with you

The purpose of talking about a feeling is to “let it out” in a positive way so that it cannot continue to bother you. You should consider seeking professional help, however, if a particular feeling such as anxiety or depression is frequent and destructive. The toll-free phone number on this site is a good place to start.

Resources

Caring Enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Toward Others by David W. Augsburger. Gospel Light Publications, 1980.

Expressing Your Feelings: The Key to an Intimate Relationship by Roger T. Crenshaw, MD. Irvington Publishers, 1981.

Sources: “Expressing Your Feelings Responsibly,” www.nku.edu; Nadig, Larry Alan PhD. “How to Express Difficult Feelings,” www.drnadig.com; “How to Talk About Feelings,” www.healthyplace.com; The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD. New Harbinger Publications Inc., 1995; Munro, Kali (2003) “We Need Our Feelings,” Resources for Healing, www.kalimunro.com/article_needing_feelings.html

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Friendly Feuds: How to Resolve Conflict Between Friends
 

Martha’s long-time friend, Janet, recently missed a birthday luncheon for Martha. “She just didn’t show,” says Martha, who feels hurt and betrayed. “Lately, Janet’s been pulling away. If she doesn’t value our friendship anymore, I’d rather be told than be stood up.”

Actually, Janet has been under a lot of pressure at work, and finding time to “check in” with Martha has been impossible. During the luncheon, Janet was dealing with a crisis and could not get to a phone. When Martha and Janet finally got in touch, Martha was standoffish and cold. “Martha was being so unreasonable,” says Janet. “I grew angry at her for expecting too much from me.”

Martha and Janet’s story illustrates how easily a simple misunderstanding can escalate into a conflict between friends. Good friends are expected to be loyal, honest, trustworthy, fun to be with, reliable, willing to listen, nonjudgmental, caring and supportive. Such high expectations, however, can make close friendships more vulnerable to conflict than casual ones.

Why friendship matters

Sometimes, it may seem easier to walk away from a friendship than address a serious conflict. But, working through such problems and making amends is vital to maintaining worthwhile friendships, both close and casual. Why is this so important?

People need friends to thrive. Friendships provide a sense of connectedness. Friends help you to look at yourself in ways you might never have before. They shed light on your good and bad qualities and boost self-esteem. Friends help ease stress and hardship through laughter and fun times. They can help you get ahead. Friends stand by you in times of despair or grief and celebrate with you in times of good fortune and achievement. Friendships are enriching and worth the time and trouble. Communication is the secret to a healthy, lasting friendship and the key to effective problem solving.

Effective communication

Effective communication involves two parts: presenting information and active listening. Without both, resolving conflict is impossible, as is maintaining your friendships. Practice these skills:

  • Think before speaking. Know exactly what message you want to convey.
  • Make sure your friend has your full attention and understands your meaning.
  • Stay focused on the matter at hand.
  • Be clear and precise.
  • Listen to yourself speak.
  • Be aware of your body movement, voice inflection, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.

When listening:

  • Pay attention to what your friend is saying and acknowledge your interest and understanding in what your friend is saying.
  • Listen for what is behind the words—like feelings and ideas.
  • Do not interrupt, get angry or judge.

When resolving conflict, keep these additional communication tips in mind:

  • Remain calm. Recognize when you are becoming defensive or too emotional.
  • Do not blame or accuse each other.
  • Focus on the issue at hand, not the way you are feeling toward each other.
  • Explore underlying issues.
  • Accept that each other’s perspective is different, but not wrong.
  • Be willing to apologize and forgive.

Sources:

Resolving Conflict: How to Turn Conflict Into Cooperation by Wendy Grant. Element, 1997.

Resolving Conflict with Others and Within Yourself by Gini Graham Scott, PhD. New Harbinger Publications, 1990.

Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives by Jan Yager, PhD. Hannacroix Creek Books, 1997.

Handling Verbal Confrontation: Take the Fear Out of Facing Others by Robert V. Gerald, PhD. Oughten House Foundation, 1999.

The Art of Talking So That People Will Listen: Getting Through to Family, Friends and Business Associates by Paul W. Swets. Simon & Schuster, 1983.

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How Was Your Day? How to Get Your Kids to Talk to You
 

Does the following “conversation” sound all-too familiar?

How was school today?
The same.

As a parent, you know that getting kids to open up isn’t always easy. Kids are amazingly good at responding to open-ended questions with a single word, giving their parents no clue about how their day might have gone, what’s going on in their lives or any problems or concerns they may be having. But don’t throw your hands up just yet. You can communicate effectively with your children—no matter what their age—by learning some simple strategies that will incline them to open up to you.

Strategy 1: Your attention, please

Picture this: You are paying bills at the kitchen table when your son walks in from school. You look up briefly, say, “How was your day?” and continue with your bill paying. Your son says, “It was OK … .” You sense there is more to the story. While stamping an envelope, you say, “You don’t sound like yourself … did something happen?” Your son says, “Well, kind of … .” Then the phone rings. You excuse yourself to take the call. When you get back to the table, you say, “I’m sorry. What were you saying?” Your son says, “It’s really no big deal,” and walks away.

This scenario is probably more common than parents want to admit, and sadly, it sends the unspoken message “I’m too busy to listen.” Parents must be attentive to both spoken and unspoken cues that a child wants to talk, and then make sure to give their undivided attention. Show your child you are interested and willing to listen by:

  • stopping whatever you are engaged in, whether it’s reading the mail, making dinner, folding laundry, etc.
  • sitting down so you are at the same level as your child
  • facing each other and making eye contact
  • not allowing the phone or other children to disrupt your conversation

If you cannot give your undivided attention at that moment, say something like, “I really want to hear more about this, but I cannot talk right now. I’ll come find you when we can talk without interruption, OK?”

Strategy 2: Seek to understand first

Parents want to make things “right” for their children, so it can be tempting to jump in with advice, an opinion or a solution before your child has had a chance to fully speak her mind. This can take time, particularly with younger kids, who are still learning how to organize their ideas and thoughts. Whether your child comes to you with a problem or simply to share an idea or something that is on his mind, psychologist Jane Healy suggests the following ideas:

  • Acknowledge: “That’s an interesting idea.” or “I see. I’ve never thought about it that way before.”
  • Restate: “Do you mean …” or “It sounds as if you’re thinking/feeling …”
  • Clarify: “I don’t understand what you mean.” or “Can you tell me more?” or “Why do you feel/think that way?”

This process will encourage your child to expand on her initial statement, and will ensure that you understand your child’s point of view.

Strategy 3: Acknowledge feelings

Learning to express one’s emotions is an important skill that parents can help children develop. When your child begins to open up to you, it’s important to acknowledge—rather than deny—his feelings. Use a calm and reassuring voice, and avoid questioning or being critical or judgmental. Doing so can be very comforting and supportive, and inclines your child to want to open up further. Sometimes a listening ear is all your child desires. These examples illustrate responses that acknowledge versus deny.

Example 1
Child: “I hate school.”
Denying statement: “Well, you’d better find a way to like it because you’re only in the third grade.”
Acknowledging statement: “Mmmm … school can be hard sometimes. You used to like school. What makes it different now?”

Example 2
Child: “I don’t like Julie anymore. She’s so mean.”
Denying statement: “Don’t be silly. You two will be friends again tomorrow.”
Acknowledging statement: “I can tell you’re really upset. It hurts when a friend doesn’t act like a friend should. Would it help to talk about it?”

Strategy 4: Make conversation a fun part of your everyday life

Not every discussion needs to be serious or a window into your child’s psyche. Talk about a favorite movie; reminisce a vacation; discuss something that’s happening in the news; ask, “What was the best and worst part of your day?” Keep your conversation at a level your child can understand.

Look for opportunities to fit conversation into your daily routine. Here are some good times to talk:

  • in the car
  • while waiting for an appointment
  • during mealtimes
  • during a snack after school

Resources

The Gentle Art of Communicating With Kids: Toddlers to Teens by Suzette Elgin, PhD. John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

How to Have Intelligent and Creative Conversations With Your Kids by Jane Healy, PhD. Doubleday, 1992.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Avon, 1980.

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Harper Collins, 2005.

Sources:

The Gentle Art of Communicating With Kids: Toddlers to Teens by Suzette Elgin, PhD. John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

How to Have Intelligent and Creative Conversations With Your Kids by Jane Healy, PhD. Doubleday, 1992.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Avon, 1980.

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Harper Collins, 2005.

The Secret Language of Children: How to Understand What Your Kids Are Really Saying by Dr. Lawrence Shapiro. Sourcebooks, 2003.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen R. Covey. Franklin Covey, 1997.

 
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