Being safe for others
Being safe for others
It will come as no surprise to the regular reader of this blog that personal growth is a bit of a thing for me right now. It is unlikely to come as a surprise (given that I'm writing about growth and run a support group) that I'm also keen to help others with theirs. I've had a lot of good experiences on this front recently, many of which I owe to other people, and want to help pay it forward, both to my friends and also to random people on the internet.
One of the skills that seems most helpful in doing this is being safe to tell things to. People are mostly OK at the desire part, and where they're not you can't really help them with that outside of a very close relationship, but everyone is lacking in safety, and if you're to be able to provide people with a platform for growth you need to be able to extend that safety to them.
There is only one thing you really must do for this: Don't react badly, especially don't react judgementally, when people tell you things that they've been hiding about themself. You need to be someone people can extend trust to.
This is, of course, extremely difficult in general. If someone confesses to some truly terrible crime, of course you're going to react badly to it, no matter how highly you think of them. It doesn't matter how much good faith you're extending, some things are just too much. Fortunately, usually it isn't this bad.
I'm not yet sure what to advise on developing this skill, but some things that seem to help:
- Learning good boundaries - being able to say "Actually, I'm sorry, I don't think I can help you with this" rather than trying and failing to help, or reacting defensively.
- Learning to manage your own reactions.
- Appreciating just how weird and diverse humanity is, and how many seemingly "unhealthy" things are actually very normal.
- Asking whether it's useful to have an opinion as to whether the thing being described is good or bad (if you're judgemental, will they stop doing it, or will they just go find someone who will encourage them to do it more?).
- Look for the underlying pain, rather than focusing on how they're conceptualising a solution to it.
- Apply the communication skills from the customer service survival kit to empathically defuse highly emotional communication.
A lot of these are, of course, the skills that one learns to apply as a therapist, but I'm hopeful that more people can develop them without retraining as therapists.