When It's Hard to Talk About

Sept. 18th, 2017

There are lots of subjects any given person could find easy to discuss. Given the amount of talking lots of people do this is a well-established fact. What happens when there are topics that aren’t so easy to talk about or bring up? Often the reaction avoidance or, in extreme cases, the person might delete what was said from their consciousness automatically.

Mental health professionals seem to specialize in things that are hard to talk about. Our jobs, the way I see, are to listen, non-judgmentally, to everything our client or patient says, and then, hopefully, be part of something being done about it. And sometimes that first sentence, framing the thing that’s been so hard for someone to say, can be the most challenging thing.

It might be natural to assume this is because of a fear of what reaction the listener might have, and sometimes this is, in fact, the case. There can be many reasons, however. Fear of making something somehow more real because of solidifying it in words. Anxiety about what it will actually be like once it leaves the amorphous confines of our heads and becomes pinned down by language. Even worry about how we ourselves will react to facts, truths, and events.

So what can we do to help ourselves, to make speaking those first, and subsequent, words easier?

For those who find it helpful, I will always recommend breathing. Deep, slow, and controlled breaths. Focusing on the desired end result, such as overcoming a block or the relief of expression and being heard, and aiming for that can help. Calm and encouraging self-talk in whatever manner is personally helpful. For example “I know this person will not judge me. They are focused on working with me. Nothing I say will cause a negative reaction from this person.” The fact that often after the first sentence, it can get easier, can also be effective.

If a topic is so enormous, crushing, and/or scary that the words refuse to leave our mouths, discussing the emotions around the current challenge to talk about a specific subject or event with someone can be helpful.

One of the most powerful mechanisms I’ve seen is that of revealing the frailty of things we fear. The question “What’s the worst that can happen?” and then “How likely is that to happen, in reality?” are often incredibly effective at removing burdens from our shoulders. We build ideas up so enormous in our minds that they become fictitiously insurmountable.

What is difficult for you to talk about?