So, I was chatting with someone as we waited for a meeting to start earlier today and we were discussing coping. In particular we were talking about how much easier it seems to be to offer helpful pointers to others than to apply them to ourselves. I think everyone has had the experience of giving someone else kind words or a helpful nudge they seem unable to provide to themselves, and then feeling hypocritical for not taking their own advice. Why is it so much easier to help someone else? This conversation reminded me of a really helpful metaphor I learned some time back, I think from Dr. Steve Hayes. Picture someone climbing a mountain, hitting a steep patch, and encountering some difficulties. Picture another mountain across a small valley, and another person climbing up that one. That person, from their perspective as they climb their mountain, can see the terrain the first person is too close to take in, and from their spot on their own mountain they are in a good position to offer advice or guidance or just some encouragement. At the same time, they themselves will at times need exactly the same sort of help as they are so close to their own issues (terrain) that they can’t see it on their own either.
This metaphor highlights how any one of us may well be able to be helpful to a friend or co-worker, since we can often bring a fresh perspective when they are feeling stuck and stressed. The same co-worker I was talking with ahead of that meeting reflected on how much she benefits from having a safe group of peers at work who she can allow to see her stress at times so they can listen and support her. She in turn is happy to provide the same safe “holding space” for them. We also chatted about the therapeutic benefits of cussing. Pro tip: there is research to support cussing as helpful in tolerating pain and stress! When I cuss I have the pleasure of knowing I am using evidence-based coping!
Allison Allen is NorthLakes Chief Behavioral Health Officer