Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Time to play psychologist

From a recent conversation I was having it seems like most people don’t know how to deal with people who are upset. Most of us get upset at some point and we all know that there are certain people who will calm us down, while there are others who talking to them makes us even more frustrated. The same is true when you’re on the flip side of the coin and a good friend or family member approaches you clearly upset about something.

This reminded me of the time when I was on a date and the guy was telling a story of how this girl he encountered was crying and he had no clue what to do and he asked if she was OK, and was shocked when she said no. He didn’t know people said no to that question. I thought that was ridiculous because why ask a question if you don’t want the answer? Why do you ask a question assuming the person will lie and say that it’s Ok even when it’s not? And why would you assume that someone who is crying is Ok…if things are OK why are they crying?

When he first told the story I was extremely critical and could not understand how he could have no clue what to say. Someone is upset! Try to comfort them! Even if you don’t succeed, at least try something. But then after I thought about it more and realized that guys are probably not used to dealing with people crying since guys are told by society that its not Ok for them to cry unless it’s a funeral or something. And after recent conversations it seems that many girls aren’t any better at knowing how to deal with people who are upset. So I guess I was a little hard on him.

Anyway, whether a person is crying or just plain angry, the best way to deal with it is by listening and not talking too much. Every situation is different and you have to use your gut to decide whether a person wants to talk or just wants to be left alone. But if they do want to talk, do not under any circumstances offer advice. They just want to vent. Just nod along and look empathetic and try to put yourself in their shoes to feel how they might feel if you were them. The worst thing you could do is to try to tell them why they shouldn’t feel the way they feel (they can’t help it!) and the second worst thing you could do is to tell them what they should do to stop feeling that way. They need to figure it out for themselves. You can try to help them in a more practical way after they have calmed down, but when they are in the moment, the best thing you can do is actively listen, pay attention to what they are saying. Don’t tell them everything is going to be OK because if they are not calm, then they are not rational, so they can’t see that. They are not in a place to accept what you’re saying.

If you have to say something besides for “right” and “that’s really tough,” then what you should be saying is something that validates them. Let them know that it’s OK to feel however they feel and that they have every right to feel the way they feel given the situation, even if you don’t believe that’s true.

Food for thought: What are things that people say to you when you’re upset that make you even more upset? What things calm you down?


  1. Most guys, myself included, are clueless about these things. Your suggestions make sense, but they go against natural guy tendencies. If we hear a problem, we try to solve it. I'm not saying we can't just listen, but it's not instinctive to us.

  2. Yeah, that's what I figured. That's why I wrote this post. :)
    It's not just guys, it's girls too. Most people try to solve the problem, which is great once the person has calmed down. But in the heat of the moment, I find that is not what most people want to hear- they just need to vent and they are not ready.

  3. Rarely I'll get into a public sobbing situation, as those fill me with self-loathing, but in those cases, I prefer if I get ignored.

    All time hater: "Calm down." I do not need condescension right now, thank you.

  4. Bookworm- I agree! Whenever people say "Calm down" it has the exact opposite effect- I immediately become more upset. If I could be calm 100 percent of the time, then I would be, so telling me to "calm down" just frustrates me because I wish I could be.


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