Several readers have asked me for advice on talking to your friends and family about your “issues”.
And by “issues,” I mean whatever you happen to be struggling with at the moment… Introversion. High sensitivity. Anxiety. Depression.
Yes, these are all different “issues” but they have one thing in common. Bringing up topics like these isn’t easy, especially with people who may not have direct experience with these issues themselves.
I mean talk about an awkward conversation, right?
“I’m a highly sensitive introvert, so I can only see you once a month for two hours from now on. And by the way, I’m about to collapse from stress and I hate my life.”
I wish that I could say that that conversation opener was a totally exaggerated joke, but there was actually a time in my life when that pretty much summed up my experience, and yes, there were some pretty awkward exchanges along the way as a result.
So let me share with you a few pointers for navigating these conversations based on my own experience.
How To Talk To Friends And Family About Your “Issues”
1. Know That You Don’t Owe Anyone An Explanation
This first pointer is for my fellow recovering people pleasers. 🙂
I want you to know that you don’t have to talk about these issues with anyone if you don’t want to. You have a right to privacy. You have a right to worry about your own well-being first and foremost. You have a right to do whatever is best for you.
Especially if you are struggling in life, your first priority should be filling your own cup and getting yourself back in shape.
If explaining what’s going on with you is too much of a burden right now, then you don’t need to. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
2. Consider Your End Goal
With that being said, we sometimes have very good reasons for opening up. And it’s good to be clear with yourself about why you want to talk so that you can tailor the conversations accordingly.
Have you disappeared on someone you really care about and you don’t want to lose, so you want to give an explanation for your behavior?
Do you have people in your life who genuinely care and want to help, so you want to explain what kind of support you need?
3. Have A Few Conversation Starters In Your Back Pocket
So then how do you actually bring it up? Like what exactly do you say?
It’s not a terrible idea to think of a few conversation starters in advance to make you feel more prepared:
- I’ve been reading about introversion lately and I think it explains a lot about why I’ve been struggling.
- Have you ever heard of highly sensitive people? It’s a genetic trait that applies to about 20 percent of people and I think I’m one of them.
- I just wanted to let you know why I’ve been so distant. I’ve had pretty severe anxiety to the point that I’ve had to cut down on activities.
And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with writing an email if that seems easier than doing this face-to-face.
When I need to have difficult conversations with my husband, I often write things down in advance even if we’re in the same house. And sometimes we “converse” via text messages. 🙂 It’s just a lot easier for me to keep my thoughts organized that way.
4. Talk About What Your “Issues” Mean In Practice
To help your friends and family fully understand what’s going on, it’s good to go beyond sharing labels and be very clear about what your issues mean in practice – especially as it relates to whoever you are having this conversation with.
So in addition to stating that you are an introvert or a highly sensitive person, talk about how exactly you are going to change your lifestyle as a result. And instead of just saying that you are struggling with anxiety and depression, talk about what that means in terms of your day-to-day functioning and what steps you are taking to feel better.
Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- I figured out that introverts really need to spend a certain amount of time alone in order to feel well, but it’s kind of hard for me to find the time with work and everything. So I think I’m going to have to cut down on going out some on the weekends.
- I found out that highly sensitive people are really vulnerable to excessive stress and stress-related health problems. So I’ve decided to start taking better care of myself, including making sure I get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Can you help remind me if I’m up past my bedtime?
- There’s all this research that exercise helps with depression and anxiety, so I started jogging four times a week. It’s been kind of hard to make it a habit, but I think it’s starting to help some. It would probably help me keep motivated if you would ask me about it every now and then.
5. Remember That People’s Reactions Are A Reflection Of Them – Not You
It would be nice if everyone you talked to about difficult issues was always able to react perfectly. But humans are humans, so I want you to prepare yourself for a variety of reactions:
- Some people won’t know what to say, so they’ll just look uncomfortable or try to change the subject. (They are having a hard time too, so let’s be forgiving!)
- Some people don’t understand and/or tolerate normal human differences and are not inclined to accept you wanting to change your lifestyle to match your personality.
- Some people will act supportive as long as whatever you are doing doesn’t affect them. As in: “It’s okay for you to be a highly sensitive introvert as long as you still say yes to everything I invite you to do.”
- Some people will have experience with similar issues, but not understand how your situation might not be exactly the same as theirs. As in: “Exercise didn’t help me with my depression, so I think you’re wasting your time trying it.”
- Some people will be wonderfully understanding and give you exactly the support you need.
How you deal with these reactions is up to you.
Option #1: Let go
With some people, you might quickly realize that it’s not going to go anywhere and it’s not worth your effort to persist. And in those cases, I want you to know that it’s a reflection of where they are at on their personal journey. It’s not a reflection of you.
Honestly, one of the BEST things I’ve ever done for myself was letting go of the need for everyone to understand what I was doing and agree with my decisions. I stopped trying so hard to win approval and I stopped waiting for people to “come around”. Because most people never will. They are who they are.
Plus if you can’t get the understanding and support you need from person X, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever get it from someone else. There are seven billion people in this world and there’s a tribe for all of us if we just have the patience to keep looking.
Option #2: Persist
With that being said, there are some relationships, where you might want to keep persisting even if you don’t have a great result the first time.
With my husband, for example, it took quite a bit of persisting to get us on the same page, but it was worth it in the end, because neither one of us wanted to separate.
I shared many articles with him about personality and we had countless conversations about how exactly our lifestyle was affecting me. And eventually, he saw first hand how changing my lifestyle turned me from a highly irritable depressed and anxious stress-case with barely any will to live into a happy and healthy wife and mom to our three kids.
In this case, persistence paid off, because now he gets it and I have the support I need.
As for you, dear reader…
Just do what you need to do. Give yourself the time and space to heal and make whatever adjustments are going to help you feel well.
Draw support from those people who are capable of giving it. Don’t wait around for the rest.
Just be sure to take care of yourself.