Its good to talk...
Or so BT used to say… But the truth is – it IS good to talk. A problem shared is a problem halved. To be sure, it depends whom you talk to and how you go about it. But overall there is lots of psychology research that shows that talking is much more healthy than repressing it all in the name if the British stiff upper lip or delusions of male invulnerability. Repressing everything will one day make your head explode!
Here, I want to dispel the myth that talking is ‘for girls’, highlight some things NOT to say and instead some things that work to get the chaps chatting. If you struggle with emotions or have a diagnosed mental health problem, then talking to someone else can be a great release. And whilst talking about the footy is a start, the chances are that you will also want to go a little bit deeper than that. Of course, you won’t want to talk to everybody – you will be justifiably concerned that not everyone is discrete. But saying the right things at the right time, or just being there to listen, can literally save lives. I have heard many stories of men who never said a word to anyone and then either let it all tumble out when things had got really bad. Or for some, their first ‘communication’ was to harm themselves.
Don't say that – say this
Us well-meaning Brits love a one-liner – but we rarely stop to think about what we are actually communicating. Here are five well-meaning things I have heard said – followed by a re-phrasing of what someone who is depressed might hear instead – followed by something more constructive and useful and less ambiguous to say instead.
You say – Come on, lad, snap out of it
They hear – Everyone else can, so what’s the problem?
Say instead – A few of us are going to the cinema tonight – would you like to come?
You say – I know what you are going through
They hear – No actually, you have no idea
Say instead – I don’t know how you are feeling; can you help me understand better?
You say – You have to choose whether to believe your thoughts
They hear – If I had a choice, would I not have chosen to do this?
Say instead – Could I help you find someone to help you with your thoughts / accompany you to see your GP?
You say – Have you tried reading your Bible / praying about it
They hear – I’ve been a Christian for ten years, what do you think?
Say instead – Would it be OK if I prayed for you? Would it be helpful if I came to church with you?
You say – But you’ve been looking so well recently
They hear – I am a fraud. I am just putting this on. It’s not a real illness.
Say instead – I’m really glad you came today. I have time
Tips when talking to men
Boy, is there some rubbish out there on the internet about how to talk with guys. Seemingly, you need to unleash the beast within, find your inner chimp or do some group singing. This is all before you need to realise that men are actually from Mars. I’m glad it is not that complicated; so for us humble earth-men here are a few ideas of what works:
Go for a walk/drive/jog. Men talk better when you are doing stuff alongside them – rather than sitting across the table from them. It allows the talking to stop and start and pause naturally with no awkward gaps.
Develop shared experiences. It doesn’t have to be football (personally I can think of nothing worse!), but what is core to our national obsession is that it allows men to talk on safe ground. And you need to start on some safe ground if you are to move on to more complex issues. Any activity works – what are they into and get them to make it interesting to you!
Start low and go slow. Don't jump in as the amateur therapist (which is never a good idea, by the way) but start of with listening (and then listen again), then move on to simple offers (I am going to the shops – can you pick anything up for you?) and open questions (can you tell me any more? How do you think this came about?)
Be consistent and patient. Good talking is a commitment to many encounters and attempts at talking. Most times you won’t talk beyond being superficial, but will watch a DVD instead – that is OK! Friendships take time to build if they are to be of any value and strength.
Don't spread yourself too thinly. Men rarely have a large number of deep friendships – though extroverts can have hundreds of superficial ones. Take a note of who you are close to and value these people. If you don’t have any such friendships, you may need to sacrifice some superficial ones to make the time. There are enough relationships to go round!
Christianity creates a strange environment – where people gather most weeks to hear a long talk on self-improvement and then meet in small groups to discuss how this relates to you personally. Is it any wonder men run a mile! And was this really what the church fathers planned? Growing faith takes time, just like growing friendships. The ‘just getting to know you’ stage can last a long time.
A faith group, like a CVM group, both puts emotions on the table and at the same time terrifies many people that they will have to ‘spill it all’. Be careful with lots of sharing of testimony – instead share a range of stories (positive and negative). Be sensible with emotion – allow tears and laughter, but also allow silence and avoidance. Don't supress emotion in the name of ‘keeping it light’, but don’t get too heavy either.
Think of church like a big wedding. Some will dance and some will be glued to the walls. Some will mingle, others will stick with their friends. Some will praise God and a couple will get very drunk. But few can deny that a good wedding is a great day – a celebration of your friends’ happiness and something that can warm even the most distant heart. The goal is not to get everyone on the dance-floor for the Y-M-C-A. But perhaps the goal can be for everyone to feel welcome and loved and be able to play their part.