Does Talking Really Help?

It is not easy to be alone in your mind. Talk to somebody.

Everybody says that people should talk about problems and not bottle them up. Is that good advice? According to both old adages and modern psychologists the answer is a clear yes. Talking through things that are bothering a person allows them to define the problem, keep it in perspective, and look at it more objectively. When people keep all their problems and emotions bottled up it can cause additional stress and may cause all the problems to run together as the mind tries to jump from one to the other until they seem endless and insurmountable.

Talking can allow valuable input from others on how to deal with situations. It allows the person talking to get the benefit of both experience and knowledge of others in processing  problems and issues when the listener gives feedback. Even just affirmation that it is a legitimate problem or feeling has value. The sharing of problems very often gives a feeling of having lessened the burden some because once it is shared there is a perception that you are not alone with the issue anymore.

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So why is it so hard to talk about problems and feelings? Social pressures and stigmas can make some feel weak or needy if they talk about things. The urge to be self-reliant is very strong in many people and even kindled by cultural expectations. Even if one can overcome the cultural or learned social expectations, there are still ramifications about some issues.

Talking about money problems could lead others to believe the person is not responsible or even untrustworthy. Talking about feelings may make others feel they are over sensitive or “too uptight”. Whether people like to admit it or not, even while they tell people to talk about their problems, when the person does finally open up there are far too often real unintended real world ramifications to the way others see them or feel about them. It only takes a couple episodes of negative responses for a person to decide the risk of talking outweighs the potential benefit.

Where professional counselors and therapists come in is they allow the positive benefits of sharing the problems and feelings without the same potential social risks. Moreover, they are trained in how to guide conversations to be more productive, and to see past smaller issues to the larger underlying issues.

An oversimplified example might be the problem wasn’t the spouse forgot to pick up some grocery items on the way home that caused the person to feel like they are in a doomed relationship, the real problem is they feel like they are never listened to or that the person does not care about their needs or desires in general.

From this point the trained professional might help a person go through a logical list of examples where the spouse has done these things many times or that it is actually infrequent and allow a person to determine if the reaction is justified or not, and in that manner to cope with the feelings better; or the opposite and see the reason the person was so upset about a small thing was it is in fact a small example of a recurring much larger problem, so while the specific thing was small, they were correct in being alarmed overall and not over-reacting.

While having a trained professional is a great support, not all have access to counselors and therapists, and it is not reasonable to be able to get a professional for everything that comes up a person might want to discuss. Many people in the world simply do not have a large enough support network of trustworthy friends or family to listen to them. Some issues also have too high of social risk to for many to feel comfortable talking about to friends or family.

If topics like depression and anxiety carry a high social risk, then how does one discuss self-harm like cutting, or actual suicidal thoughts without feeling like they are seriously risking the relationship and trust of their friends and family? If somebody has suicidal thoughts on a frequent basis or has been suffering from depression for a long period of time they cannot see a professional every time a negative thought enters their mind. Friends and family often have no experience in listening and offering feedback on these issues, so that silence comes across as not caring and may make it feel like sharing was  a mistake.

Use of anonymous peer support groups has been proven very effective for many people in dealing with the harder problems and feelings. Everything from addiction to suicidal thoughts has peer groups that will allow people talk to others that have had similar experiences so are not judgmental, and the anonymous nature relieves the social risk of disclosure. Also peer support groups allow far more frequent help than professional services. They fulfill the vital role of sharing thoughts and feelings while relieving the burden of feeling alone, without social risk to the person that is sharing. It is a chance to talk to people that actually understand the feelings and problems because they have had similar feelings or issues currently or in the past. It allows one to not only have a chance to talk, but to be listened to and understood as well.

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