Talk. About. It. That’s what everyone says when they perceive you’re going through rough times. And when you point out to them that talking doesn’t help, they tell you to “find the right person”. That is, a better listener.
What do we mean when we say to talk about it with someone?
Talking about it can take quite a lot of different forms but the general concept seems to be “talking about your problems”. It could take the form of:
- Venting AKA ranting
- Endless chit-chat or gossip
- Talking about relationship conflicts
- Opening up about the struggles you face
Venting, or do you prefer to call it ranting?
This is when we make statements like “this is the most annoying day of my life” or “my boss is a mini-devil”. On these days, we are stressed and pumped, and need a medium to channel these energies. Many times, we prefer to sleep, talk about it or treat ourselves to a nice dinner. Some persons prefer to sweat it out by engaging in physical activity and the “mindful” soul seekers often try yoga or meditation.
Nothing beats venting about it to a friend, especially one who’s sworn to our side. But even venting could go wrong. Ever stopped in the middle of a venting session? Why do we do this? Because our listener does not seem invested in what we are saying or sometimes, we make ranting sound boring.
Reasons why listeners might not feel invested in our vent:
- When the listener feels we are overreacting
- They’re distracted over a movie.
- They are bored or simply not just interested
- They don’t understand what we are talking about. Most likely the case when we rant about technical aspects of our jobs.
How do we make rants boring?
- We hold back information
- We summarize a full day, one that’s supposedly demanding into 3 sentences. Clue to this is when the listener keeps pressing you for more.
Endless chit-chat or gossip
This is where the excitement comes in. It’s jovial and amusing. And your everyday gossip talks. Even this could go wrong. Your chatter buddy has to continuously match your energy lest you feel talkative and tune out of the conversation.
When you don’t feel like talking, let your chatter buddy know. Be civil about it.
Instead of saying “You talk too much”, say “I’m not in the mood to talk”. Then you can suggest another activity like watching a movie or reading together.
Talking about relationship conflicts
I absolutely find it annoying when after a conflict with a friend, they’ll rather we start being cool with each other without talking about our fight. Why do people do this?
Many stonewall during the period of the fight and then one day, they “decide” that the stonewalling is enough and that all is well. They act like the fight never existed but it did. The memory can’t be erased unless you performed brain surgery and removed the brain structure where the memory was stored.
Why do we choose to not talk about relationship conflicts? Why will some folks rather just move on than have an actual conversation about it? There are several reasons to consider and there’s also the influence of social conditioning which creates unhealthy ideas, toxic emotions and behavioural patterns that are ineffective.
Psychotherapy equals talk therapy. This form of treatment comes highly recommended in the treatment of mental disorders. The aim of the therapy differs based on the type of psychotherapy you’re engaged in, and of course, the mental condition being treated.
Psychotherapy should be done with a licensed psychologist. What about a psychiatrist? The job description of a psychiatrist is different from that of a psychologist. A psychiatrist is less likely to approach psychotherapy as their major treatment technique – they’ll rather employ drug-based therapy. But you can often work with both, especially if your mental condition is severe and as such requires combined therapy.
Types of talk therapy
According to the American Psychological Association, the different approaches to psychotherapy are grouped into 5 groups:
- Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies
- Behaviour therapy: This includes classical conditioning, desensitizing, operant conditioning and variations such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
- Cognitive therapy
- Humanistic Therapy: This includes client-centred therapy, gestalt therapy and existential therapy.
- Integrative or holistic therapy: Refers to a blend of one or more therapeutic approaches.
NB: The classifications vary widely but the central idea, of course, isn’t lost. Look out for that. It is also not uncommon for psychologists to employ a combination of these techniques.
Other common therapy terms you might encounter are interpersonal therapy, dialectic therapy, group therapy, couple/family therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (recommended for PTSD), life coaching, art therapies, etc.
Opening up about the struggles you face
It’s not uncommon to meet someone who’s capable of ranting about an event, engaging in endless chatter, talking about relationship conflicts but will never talk about their personal struggles. These persons might be talkative or not.
Their family and friends never really know what goes on in their heads. They often appear independent and strong – they have it together and make quite the best shoulders to lean on. However, they don’t know how to lean on someone else’s.
Why is this so?
- The personality type of the individual
- Influence of childhood upbringing
- Scared of being “seen” and rejected
- Are worried of sounding foolish, and being judged
- Opening up means being vulnerable. Some folks hate vulnerability.
- Experience difficulty expressing their emotions – alexithymia.
There are other reasons for this. One fine way to help someone open up easily is to be genuinely interested, tread lightly and ask open-ended questions.
Why talking about it might feel annoyingly unhelpful
Talking in most of these forms described above are all geared towards one generic aim: to provide relief. But there are so many reasons why just talking about it will not provide relief, especially if you suffer from a mental condition.
The lot of us when we do decide to open up or talk about it, do not do so with trained and licensed therapists. We turn to family and friends and here’s where things get all fuzzy – our families and friends aren’t trained therapist. It’s not always easier with a trained therapist, so what makes you think it will be with someone who isn’t trained?
Here are some reasons why talking with someone, especially a non-therapist might seem unhelpful:
1. Talking to the wrong person:
When you decide to open up to someone, this is most likely one of the first things to consider, “who should I be opening up to?”. It’s not a surprise that sticking with a terrible listener can botch up a helpful talking session.
2. You might be overwhelming your right listener – have a tribe:
Remember, your listener is most likely not trained and might be going through their own pile of a messy life. Hence, they can’t take up too much. They’ll eventually feel choked up if you come to them every day (literally) to talk. But with a tribe, no one person gets to feel overwhelmed. You can also help by watching out for cues that your listener might not be in the right mood to talk. If they’re disturbed or busy, then reschedule.
3. Unrealistic expectations:
This happens with both therapists and non-therapists. You can’t expect to feel better after one session with a therapist but sometimes, we do. A good therapist will help guide your expectations to reality but what if you aren’t speaking with a therapist? Simple, know what you want. Do you want empathy, a solution to your problems, an understanding as to your thinking patterns, a shoulder to lean on or “fill in what you need”?
4. You have a mental bias that talking will yield no good:
A mental bias often interferes with physical health. If it can affect our physical health, then it can do much more to our mental health. Do not talk about it when you’re convinced that it will absolutely yield no good.
5. You’re holding back (trust issues):
I see this as testing the waters. While some persons are comfortable sharing their darkest times with any random stranger, some persons are not. These persons like to move steadily, they start with their least “problems” and gradually work their way up. However, you can’t make real progress when you don’t fully open up.
6. Cognitive based therapy might not be for you:
This is probably the commonest form of psychotherapy but as seen earlier on, it isn’t the only type. Explore the psychotherapeutic options you have with your therapist, and together, work out what will work best for you.
7. You are a highly sensitive person HSP who is overstimulated:
A highly sensitive person, according to Dr Elaine Aron has deeper processing technique, easily overstimulated by sensory inputs, notice subtleties and usually have intense emotional reactions. As an overstimulated HSP, it is helpful to schedule talk time for times when you are well-rested. If you feel exhausted, then you should relax first. Stay away from stressors.
It’s a good thing to talk about your problems but, it becomes counterproductive if all you do is to dwell on them. Co-rumination is when you keep doing just that – talking about the bad “times” 24/7 with someone with no solution in view.
Feeling a connection with the person, trained or not, do count. Do not focus much on trying to read your listener. Trust your instinct and gut feelings. If there’s no connection or you don’t feel comfortable, try someone else.
The idea of having to try someone else is nerving but necessary. If you had cancer, surely you wouldn’t give up after the first trip to the doctor. You might even end up trying different oncologists before finding the right fit. It’s okay to not get it right the first time. Many persons do not.
Talking about it with someone is helpful but there are a lot of ways it can be unhelpful. Don’t let it be. Take a deep breath and talk, only when you feel up to it. Just like exercise, it contributes to our overall well-being if done well enough and often.