In my last post, I discussed the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions that impede performance, decision-making, relationships, health, and happiness. I also summarized research-based strategies that each of us can enact to turn the tide on destructive rumination courtesy of Dr. Ethan Kross’ book Chatter. This post focuses on social support as a resource.
Kross tells us that people are compelled to talk about their negative experiences with others. The more intense the experience, the more they’ll want to discuss it and the more frequently they’ll revisit it in conversation. We crave connection with others when we are hurting. Unfortunately, venting can heighten negative emotions rather than quell them. And we may wind up pushing people away or elicit a response that doesn’t help us move forward.
We need two kinds of support when in throws of a downward spiral, each delivered in the right measure at the right time.
- We need emotional support to address a wounded soul in need of tenderness and compassion. Kross notes that we don’t need to provide the entire backstory to get it. A recounting may heighten our emotional pain. And we don’t need to enroll our companions in our side of things. We just need a bit of human connection to help us start to pull ourselves out.
- We also need cognitive support to help us figure out what we’re going to do. With the right listening skills, gentle nudging, and questions, a good friend or colleague can help us gain distance from our turmoil, cool down our emotions, and start the process of identifying practical solutions.
As noted, support needs to come “in the right measure at the right time.” An overly rational response at the onset of a crisis could increase suffering and send the unintended message that the person who hurts is wrong or foolish. An overly empathetic response could amp up the hurt, anger, disappointment, shame, etc. and make it difficult to change perspective.
Though we may be anxious to relieve another person’s suffering, some folks need space when processing their pain. Overt acts of emotional or cognitive support could prove detrimental to their process and the relationship. Such instances may call for nonverbal forms of support. One could pick up the slack on chores, cook meals, run errands, or brings flowers. Sometimes, an affectionate touch says it all.
Kross suggests that different kinds of issues call for support from different types of folks. Some may be particularly good at dealing with work-related issues. Some may show skill in the realm of family dynamics. Others may excel in addressing friendship and matters of the heart. Still others may be experts on health. He suggests creating a “Board of Advisors” whose members span the various competencies we’d need to address life’s vicissitudes.
If ritual provides a source of comfort, it may help to seek out those who share in your traditions. As a case in point, I recall how anxious I felt when facing my first 3-hour written exam at the Duke Divinity School. The chaplain held a service of communion before the exam for all interested parties and made fresh baked bread for the occasion. Steam escaped from the bread as she broke it, and this amazing aroma wafted in the air. My nerves settled right down. I became clear-eyes and focused.
Social media can be an asset or a liability in troubled times. When tragedy has struck a community, it can be a place to connect with those who share your sorrow. It provides reassurance that you are not alone. Yet it too must eventually move from simply sharing an experience to a way forward from suffering. And for deeply personal experiences, social media can be salt in the wound. It may induce envy and trigger self-defeating dialog.
Finally, if no one is around when a difficult mood strikes, you can always gaze at a picture of a loved one. The break in thought pattern and influx of warm emotion can be a healing balm.