We need to talk before we NEED to talk!
OK, maybe I'm referring to women in particular - but many of us know the "ins and outs" (apologies for that) of our friends' sex lives, we know their menstrual cycle (at my age we know about each others' peri-menopause symptoms) - but how many of us know how much people earn!?
Money is often a more taboo subject than sex!
...and this can be contributing to some of the struggles we're having facing the cost of living crisis. We aren't talking about the fact we are struggling, and in some ways this may be because we don't want others to know we are struggling. For some this is because of a sense of shame...and if this is you, in so many ways, this is easier to address, because I would almost guarantee that if you raised the discussion - real friends would a) understand, and b) likely say "oh us too!!!". For others, it might be trickier - those who not only feel they need to "make things ok" for everyone else and that "making it ok" is part of their identity - it can be very hard to say - this time, I really can't fix it.
The fixer mentality
Identified in psychology as the “white knight”
(Lamia, 2009) the “fixer” or “rescuer” (The Karpman Drama Triangle, Karpman, 2014) the fixer believes they will selflessly rescue the innocent from the evildoer. Lamia explains “The white knight can be a woman or a man of any age, race, sexual orientation, culture, or socioeconomic status. The contemporary white knight may appear to be a real gem…but is actually a tragic hero.” What Lamia recognises is that the white knight seems caught in a loop of the same sort of distress they experienced in childhood which as the rescuer themselves are unable to resolve within themselves, and they become defeated and sometimes even resentful…and on occasion may simply rush from one distress call to another leaving the current “rescue” wondering what went wrong – and because they have tried to “fix them” rather than empower them – with few skills to even help themselves!
The "fixer" may acknowledge there is debt, but rather than speak to their family to make changes as a team, they will take out a loan to tide things over...and then another one to deal with that...to the point where they can get into a huge amount of debt, and may still be keeping this to themselves.
To any "fixers" - stop, please. Reach out to someone for some help eg https://www.stepchange.org/
Make a "difficult conversation" into a conversation
The less we talk about something, the bigger we believe it is, so we need to start having those conversations now.
At the first level, consider some prompts:
"Hey, this year, we wanted to only do one gift/spend less than £5 per person/all bring a dish to dinner..."
If the conversation is tougher, consider an agenda:
- What is the current situation
- What would you like to happen
- What are your ideas to get there
...then be prepared to listen - and you might find that you are suddenly all working as a team.
Broad tips for broaching subjects that you might struggle to discuss:
1. Have the discussion when you are NOT hugely emotional (otherwise it is likely to turn into an argument where “winning” becomes the goal, not solving the problem) – sometimes you need to walk away, then return to the discussion…but if you are going to walk away – tell the other person/people you need a moment and you will be back. (Then come back!)
2. Have your agenda written out if you can – it is easy to be pulled off track and again it is important to keep focus on resolution.
3. Hold the discussion somewhere neutral if you can - it can sometimes even be an advantage to "walk and talk" - so it all feels less formal
4. Have an idea of what you want as a solution but be flexible – and then listen.
5. If you can, try to avoid “blame” language eg. “Your family are so demanding…” it is healthier to focus on what is under your control eg. “When x happened, I felt…” – it may even be that the issue lies in communication rather than in the actual event that occurred.
Suppressing our worries can have repercussions on our mental health
· Burying negative emotions can lead to a number of mental health issues – if you never resolve the issue, it can result in ineffective behaviour strategies to cope eg. Avoidance of the person, people, or place which causes the discomfort – which in turn can lead to isolation, and that can lead to social anxiety, anxiety and depression.
· It can result in never forming a positive connection with people, places or things, which you might have been able to do had you faced the situation when it was merely a conversation which needed to be had…and this can restrict huge avenues to you...you never know who could have helped. Although you are “inactive” it has the same effect as “burning bridges”.
· It can have repercussions on the rest of the family – perhaps you never want to see your parents at Christmas – but that may also mean that your children miss out. (Arguably, there can also be good reason for such a breakdown).
· If you do not deal with emotions in a healthy way, you may engage in “self-medication” to help supress them eg. Drugs/alcohol/over-eating – and this will have huge physical consequences including detrimental effects (sometimes irreversible) on the brain and body.
· You are also unable to teach your own children – or perhaps model healthy expression of emotion to your own teams in the workplace. This can affect your success as a parent, and as a professional.
Other tips we can do to help us speak up
i) Seek professional support
If you can afford it, working with a professional can help. Family and friends can be “too close” to the situation, they may have their own opinions which can muddy the waters for your own reflections, and also it can then make you feel bad that you are “wasting their time”. A professional will give you objective ways to work through.
ii) Learn to become “OK” with big feelings!
Mindfulness exercises can help us acknowledge and accept all emotions eg:
Think of a time you felt happiness – make the picture vibrant – where do you feel that emotion?
Think of a time you felt anger – make that picture vibrant – where do you feel take emotion?
Repeat with other emotions eg:
(always ending on a positive emotion.)
This exercise takes you through a number of emotions asking you to recognise where you feel them and in doing so be reminded that emotions are acceptable, and can be fleeting, and in noting where they feel them, you may be able to use the sensations your body gives as an indication that there is something you need to address, before the emotion becomes too overwhelming.
iii) Stop saying “I’m fine” – and start to be honest with yourself (at the very least) and (perhaps select) others as to how you are really feeling. If you’re feeling fabulous say so, if not, you might wish to confide in the person asking you if you have that sort of relationship, or you might offer a closed positive response eg “I’m not great, but I don’t want to discuss it right now/but I’m working on it”…this may lead to an opportunity to talk when it is more convenient for you, or simply close the conversation if it is with someone you don’t want to talk with.
There is no shame in admitting you need support, and when you reach out, consider who would be the most effective person.
As always, it is best to seek help before the point of crisis, or before it gets to the point where it is taken out of your hands because you are no longer able to cope and your body breaks physically or emotionally - and that includes saying - hey, money's a little tight this year.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt Order The Leader's Guide to Resilience or The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness or Be A Great Manager Now