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Togetherall: How To Help Someone Open Up To You

Is someone you are close to seemingly incapable of expressing how they really think or feel? Find out how to help them open up, and feel comfortable with the language of emotion.

Emotional barriers are often built at birth. Phrases such as ‘don’t speak until you are spoken to’ or ‘children should be seen and not heard’ can cause individuals later in life to hold back from emotional talk. Although they feel vulnerable and uncomfortable discussing their emotions, people who are not in touch with their emotions may also struggle to understand their own behaviours, because the two are closely intertwined. Often, emotionally inhibited individuals talk in actions rather than feelings, as in ‘I did this’ as opposed to ‘I felt this’. This does not mean that they lack feelings, but that they may find it tricky to verbalise or access those feelings. So how do you help someone close to you to talk more comfortably about how they really feel? Read our four steps to emotional communication to find out how.

Step 1: Open

You first need to encourage them to talk emotionally, rather than logically or factually. Start by asking a provocative question, or telling a story that naturally leads to an emotionally–led conversation. At this stage, you are not trying to discover specifically what’s on their mind, but are simply setting the stage for an emotionally framed conversation, so choose a subject that you both feel strongly about. Use emotive words to encourage this. ‘I don’t know what to feel about this’ rather than ‘I don’t know what to do about this’ or ‘I can’t imagine what they must be going through right now’ rather than ‘I can’t imagine what they will do now’. And so forth.

Step 2: Explore

Once a conversation is flowing, gently explore their emotional responses by asking questions around how they feel about the specific subject you are talking about. They will be more likely to do this when their mind is in ‘emotion mode’ which is fluid and has no fixed answers; their curiosity will be awakened. Ask emotionally-led questions like ‘What do you feel about…?’ or ‘What does that raise for you…?’ Be non-threatening and non-judgemental, allowing the conversation to meander around their opinions and revelations. It is important that they trust you and feel safe being open, honest and candid. Remember that this is an exploration for both of you. Often when people vocalise their emotions they go back and forth, especially if this is new territory for them. Not everything they say may be absolutely what they mean, but give them the space to explore themselves with you, and don’t leap on them if they say something you don’t necessarily agree with. There are rarely right and wrong answers when you talk about emotions – especially when they are not your own.

Step 3: Connect

This stage helps them to connect the emotional responses they have just been discussing with you with their own core opinions, values or beliefs. For example, if their response to someone else’s success is intense jealousy, this is possibly linked to a deep seated fear of failure. It is these inbuilt attributes that drive our behaviour; the same person may, for example, shy away from opportunities because deep down they think they will fail. Accessing these core attributes can help them gain a greater understanding of their own motivations. You are now gently shifting the focus away from the specific event or ‘opener’, and transferring it subtly onto their emotional foundations. Use sentences like ‘Why do you think this makes you feel that way?’ or ‘What is it about this story that makes you feel so…?’ Also, humour enhances our ability to connect with other people, so don’t be afraid of using humour to help things along if you sense your friend is feeling uncomfortable.

Step 4: Act or accept

By this point they may have uncovered some truths about themselves which will lead them to either accept these core truths, or act on them if they identify a need to make a change. For example, if they fear failure, they may realise that they need to embrace opportunities more – taking more personal or professional risks to realise their potential. There is no right or wrong here, and it is down to them to decide which way they want to go with the new information that they have discovered. If they have identified a desire to change then they will feel far more motivated to do so armed with these new revelations about themselves. All you need to do is provide the encouragement and positive affirmations they need to help them achieve this, the rest is down to them. Finally, remember that you are their friendly confident, not their therapist! To ask someone to reveal their emotions to you requires that you are willing to share your own in return. They will feel far more comfortable opening themselves up to you if you are doing the same. You never know, you might uncover some new things about yourself in the process.

This article is part of our TogetherAll article series where we highlight content available on the TogetherAll platform. TogetherAll is FREE for all FFWPU-UK members. For more information, please visit: https://familyfedcommunity.co.uk/togetherall/

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