(This is part of a series, following Part 1 and Part 2.)
Part 3 – Put It Into Practice
Now that we’ve laid the foundations of awareness and understanding, some of you might want to know – how can this help me talk with my family about mental health? Here are some key questions to ask yourself before initiating those conversations.
First, ask yourself, “Why do I want to talk with this person about mental health?”
Is it because I want their support? Do I have a certain agenda? Do I want to connect with them on a deeper level? Did they hurt me in the past?
Understand what position you are coming from because the other person will catch on regardless of what’s spoken. If your position is from a place of pain, stigma or shame; anything other than compassion, chances are it will be received with an equally non-compassionate response. When Jesus addressed the accusations of the Pharisees (see Part 1 for how Jesus addressed them), he knew when a question was genuine and when it was really a trap. As readers, we can see that the Pharisees were not open to a healing conversation, even if they themselves were the first ones to initiate it.
So, if you want an honest conversation, embrace honesty for yourself.
Next, seek to understand the other person’s position.
The initial question you want to ask might be, “How do you [dad, mother-in-law, or whoever!] feel about the topic of mental health?”
If that term brings up a negative reaction from your family member, maybe phrase the question in a way that would be more appropriate to them. For example, “How have you been feeling lately? Do you feel you’re in a healthy place emotionally, or have you been struggling with anything?”
Depending on how safe the environment is, there is also the option to ask an even more direct question. For example, in Part 2 of this series, the daughter might ask, “Dad, did your father often yell at you when you were a little kid?” Or the couple struggling with anxious parents may respond with a question like, “Mom, why do finances seem to bring up so much fear in our conversations? What was your experience with finances like growing up?”
It is important that these conversations need to happen when we are in a regulated and calm state to truly connect with each other on non-defensive terms – in Part 2, we explored how jealousy, insecurity, and a self-preserving stance prohibited a conversation between King Saul and David.
If the daughter approached her father in a state of anger and aggression herself, she may meet a father who retreats to yelling in order to defend himself in a moment of shame. If the son-in-law accused his in-laws of just being stingy with finances or of heartlessness, the chances that they will begin the conversation in a stance of open-mindedness decreases exponentially. People, especially family members, are rarely in a state to connect and reflect if we sense we are under attack.
So, how can I replace defensiveness with open-mindedness? The challenge in initiating these conversations successfully as the one moving towards a healthy change in the relationship, is taking the first step and modeling that change in yourself.
When talking about mental health, we must realize that everyone plays a part. In the way that we are all sinners, we carry experiences of fear, grief, betrayal, stress that can make us feel helpless and afraid. When we fully recognize that these are conversations between two hurting people, we can engage in a more realistic and healing experience, because we are creating a safer space for these conversations to take place.
As we make the effort to recognize the hurt, we build awareness and safety that is crucial to a true family relationship.