We all know the drill. Someone asks how someone’s doing, the obligatory “I’m fine.” is returned, and the parties move on. But in the world of the emotional and mental disorders, that won’t cut it.
…it’s not always what we say that makes a difference. When, where, and how we say it is crucial.
Psychiatrist Dr. Joann Mundin dropped me a line last week offering a guest post.
The topic and content were a great fit for Chipur, so I took her up on it. And we’re going to get right into the goods.
The floor’s yours, doc…
Subtle ways to ask twice
We’re often asked, “How are you?” And we likely reply, “I’m fine.” But how often is that true?
It’s become customary to provide a positive answer to the question. Maybe that’s because we don’t want to share what’s wrong, the setting is inappropriate, or we’re trying to convince ourselves and others we’re okay.
Sometimes when we’re the ones getting the positive reply, we know it’s a fib. The symptoms of depression, loneliness, anxiety, severe stress, etc. have become obvious.
If that’s the case, it’s important to ask again. But how do we enhance our chances of getting to the truth without being a pain?
Here are some questions and statements that’ll lend a hand.
“Are you sure?”
Give them a chance to reconsider if they want to talk things over. In addition, the question lets them know we sense something’s up.
It really can be an effective icebreaker.
“I’m always there if you need me.”
While we may have the best of intentions, surely we know that some people aren’t comfortable with immediately opening up.
With this statement, we’re letting them know we sense something’s going on and they can approach us if and when they’re ready.
And who isn’t comforted by knowing a caring individual is always there?
“How are things going?”
Sure, small talk can be a drag. But questions like “How’s work/school?”, “How was your weekend”, “What are your plans for the weekend?” can help someone believe we’re interested in what’s happening in their life – and we’re sincerely trying to determine if they’re okay.
By asking casual questions, we increase our chances of getting to the heart of the matter. If it doesn’t get us there, at least they’ll know we care. Perhaps they’ll turn to us later.
When we notice someone’s behavior is out of the norm, using this statement may allow us access.
For instance, we can say, “You’ve been quiet lately,” “I noticed you’ve been pretty anxious recently.”, etc.
These statements allow us to express our observations and concerns without nagging. And we’re gently providing an opportunity to discuss what we’ve noticed.
“If there is something, you can trust me.”
Perhaps someone’s thinking seriously about opening up, but second thoughts continue to get in the way.
They may believe what’s on their mind is embarrassing, stressful, or too personal.
In such cases ensuring confidentiality while providing space to reveal the issue at their convenience could be helpful.
Statements like this will convey to the individual that we understand they’re uncomfortable, and they’ll underscore our sincere concerns.
“To be honest, I’m having a rough time myself.”
As a general rule, people tend to gravitate toward those with whom they have something in common.
So it makes sense that being willing to open up about our troubles may help someone feel more comfortable with sharing what’s on their mind.
Of course, being honest and genuine is a necessity.
When it comes to determining someone’s true emotional or mental status, we know there isn’t a statement or question that’s going to open everyone’s gate.
That means we have to be perceptive, creative, and flexible. Actually, going with our gut often provides the best guidance.
But we always have to keep in mind that sharing feelings and troubles doesn’t come easy – even upon multiple inquiries – for some people.
Finally, it’s not always what we say that makes a difference. When, where, and how we say it is crucial.
Be caring, be there. Ask twice.
Thank you for reaching out and sharing with us, Dr. Mundin. Glad to have your article available to Chipur readers…Bill
About Dr. Mundin: Dr. Joann Mundin is a board-certified psychiatrist who has been in practice since 2003. She is a Diplomate with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and a Fellow with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Dr. Mundin is currently associated with Mindful Values.
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