I stumbled to the kitchen to grab my morning dose of caffeinated goodness and paused. For some reason today was different and I found myself staring at the letter board that has been there for months, unchanged. Several months before my husband decided to intentionally post this phrase where I couldn’t miss it. He knew it lit me up so much I could set the kitchen ablaze without even turning on the stove.
“Take a deep breath and relax.”
Each time I’d whip myself into a frenzy, found myself venting about the same thing for the millionth time, or brought to uncontrollable tears, I’d hear this phrase. He meant well. I knew he did, but all it did was piss me off. TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND RELAX? Sounds easy enough, but it wasn’t stopping the cycle:
Get upset→ Hear the phrase I freaking loathe to my core→ Get even more upset→ Repeat
Not to mention that in that state hyperventilation was far more likely than relaxation. There was obviously a breakdown between what he thought I needed and what I actually needed. It actually turns out that as much as I hated it, I’d been doing the same thing to other people I love and respect.
The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions
Yep - the proverb is true. People generally mean well when offering their version of support to others through difficult times. But absolutely none of the advice that comes out of your mouth is going to make them feel better. Zero. Nada. Zilch. While it’s true that deep breathing has been proven to signal your brain to calm down and relax, telling someone to do this amidst their venting is more likely to have the opposite effect.
Opinions Are Like Assholes
You’re upset and trying to maintain your composure so you don’t lose your shit on the person with the well-meaning advice. The almighty opinion is spoken. Yes, you are entitled to it. But if you weren’t asked for it, vomiting it all over your already distraught friend is not the way to get them to calm down. Sounds gross, right? It is - and I want you to imagine the next time you think you’re being a good person offering advice through your lens.
3 Things Better than Your Advice
Make it clear that you are a safe space for them to vent and get it all out. All that shit has to go somewhere and they felt comfortable enough to bring it to you.
Find out what kind of support they need. As women we tend to want to nurture and care for others. We really think we know better, especially if we’ve gone through a similar experience. By simply asking, you honor your relationships. Hold the space and make it clear you care enough about them to be open to hearing what would help them most in this moment.
Now that you know what they need, you can let them know what parts of their needs you are able to support. Maybe they want to know your perspective, a girls’ night out, $20 to put gas in their car. Now that you actually know and have given them the platform to use their voice, you can help without starting the stress cycle all over again. Or maybe you can’t help. Sometimes what is needed is not something you can or are willing to do. You Are allowed to set boundaries for yourself. If you can’t offer support in the ways voiced, be honest and say so. It may not be received as well as you wish, but you are honoring your relationship with that person by listening and asking.
As I snapped to, I realized this letter board doesn’t set me off the way it once did. I’ve almost changed its message too many times to count, but always stop myself. It is a reminder to be thoughtful when others trust me with their difficult moments. A reminder to hold space for them and listen. I know I deserve a good rant from time to time. So do you. And so do they.
But most importantly, it reminds me that in order to break the cycle I have to ask for what I need.