Friday, July 31, 2020

The Assertive Empathy Game Plan for Conversations

This is a part of a larger discussion on the difference between authentic mindsets (empathy and assertiveness) and triggered, defensive mindsets (aggression, passivity, avoidance).

I developed the following system to guide me through conversations. A road map for trying to be in an authentic mindset myself. And what to do if another person is being defensive toward me.

The Assertive Empathy Game Plan for Conversations

Entering into a conversation....

1) Be assertive. Self-responsibility to be introspective, figure out core needs, and ask, not demand, ask for them.
(wants v. needs is another topic not net covered in this essay).

2) If anything other than empathy/assertive is what comes back your way, put the empathy shield up. If the other person is in a defensive state, know that your ask will not be authentically acknowledged until the defensive is resolved.

3) If you still want the need or care about the other, want to help, and authentically have energy, engage with the defensiveness. Offer an unyielding combination of empathy (I wonder if you're having a hard day? How are you doing? Would you like to talk? I won't be mad if you talk.)

If you get vulnerability, more empathy of reassurance and listening. If able, continue with your own assertiveness, which now may include thanks for the effort you just put in to not foster lingering resentment. Which, if they get defensive about that ask, it's back to #2

4) If a person is relieved of pain and feeling satiated in other needs, they will almost always respond with a level of empathy toward respectful asks from another. They may assertively say no, and even then in a wise mind will express empathetic understanding of why a no can be painful.

5) What happens if assertiveness didn't get the empathy + assertive reply? It was defensive and you started down #2 and #3 and you're getting worn out? Listen to self need, Have self empathy. And get out. Altruism breeds resentment. There is a level of self-sacrifice that is authentic - a strong enough need of care for another that you'll put in the hard word of trying to emotionally heal them. I will sometimes do this and seek empathy from a less hurting person about how hard that work was. Work can be hard, still worth it, and validation from others seems so important. The person in pain won't see or appreciate your work, not at first. Having someone else see it is so rewarding. Self-reward for hard work is never enough. Humans need the validation of others.

6) If it's getting to be too much, just get out. Even if you deeply care, at a point of self-sacrifice you'll exhaust yourself so much that you'll too tired to take care of self at all. Have respect for self need to recharge. Get out, take a break. Leave the pained person in pain and know that society did this to them, not you. And society could pick up more of the slack in helping heal them.

7) In powerless situations, retreat into self-defense. At a level of hostile defensiveness of others, at some point your own self need requires defending. You can't get out for some reason. You're stuck. Often in forced dynamics such a work, unfair social policy, ect. Get aggressive or passive to the point of self-safety. I never, ever "accept" that people/society is cruel. Defensiveness in pain in others. It's coming at me so hard that I need to defend it and I try to tolerate as best I can, try to damage as little as possible in response, and have empathy, yes empathy, for this person or situation causing me pain. I can see that the pain in other is ultimately some external force of nature or society that inflicted pain onto them. No-one is helping them with that in a hyper-individualized society and they were forced into defensiveness as their only recourse.

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tips for Calling an Emotional Crisis and/or Suicide Prevention Hotline

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As someone with a chronic mental health issue, I have made use of crisis hotlines numerous times over the years. I've had good experiences and bad experiences. The bad experiences taught me that crisis lines aren't perfect, and over the years I developed some understandings that helped make them a better resource for me.

Here's some things I've learned that helped me. Hope they might help others who perhaps struggle in similar ways to myself

1) There are help lines for non-suicide crisis situations
In my personal experience, the one line I always here about when deep in the throws of mental stress is the National Suicide Hotline.

This begs the question - what if I'm not feeling suicidal? Or feeling "kinda suicidal but not really planning to kill myself"?

First - want to take a moment to discuss the concept of suicidal feelings. I used to have misconception that suicidal thoughts were binary. Either you are or aren't suicidal. Have come to realize that suicidal intent is more like a spectrum. In a future post I'll talk about a scale I was taught for levels of intent.

For this post, want I want to talk about is that for a long time I had this fear that I "wasn't suicidal enough" to call a hotline. I wasn't at the stage of a fully planned attempt. I feared that because I wasn't that deep into the danger zone that I didn't have a right to call the suicide line. What if other people needed it more?

What I've come to learn is that the people who set up these crisis lines set them up for a range of emotional crises. I was shocked to find out that the National Suicide Hotline is, in fact, fully set up as both the National Emotional Crisis AND Suicide Hotline.

That's right. You can have zero thought of killing yourself and still use this resource. Also, there's plenty of other lines to call as well. I'll try and start compiling a list in a future edit to this post. Or maybe make it it's own post. If you know of a resource please post it in the comment section below if you feel comfortable.

Also, I do think there's a level of self-accountability to use these resources responsibly. This is an EMERGENCY line. I use it when I've had 24 hours straight of anxiety and panic attacks. I don't call the line to vent about someone giving me a dirty look on the bus.

Which, I also don't want to belittle any emotional trigger. Extremely small acts of disrespect can trigger immense anxiety in myself. Don't want to judge or shame any trigger. Just a respectful note that I try to not overuse a limited and useful national resource. While also not fearing under-use of that resource either.

2) It is okay to hang up at any time

As a chronic people pleaser, I tend to worry about making the call a good experience for the crisis line worker. I especially fear that they'd worry about me if I hung up. They wouldn't know what happened and that makes me sad.

I finally asked a crisis line worker about this fear and found out they have direct, specialized training for this. They are trained to not take personal offense. This call is about YOU. That's the whole reason the service is there.

If the call is going poorly and you're getting overwhelmed, it is 100% OKAY to bail on it. Hang up on the crisis worker mid-sentence if needed. This is not the time to pressure yourself with politeness and if hanging up is what you need, they know to expect it.

3) It is okay to not like a crisis worker, and you have a right to request a different person

One thing about humans - it's pretty clear that some people simply do not "click" with other people. People are different. This applies to family members, co-workers, and the crisis workers you get paired with.

If a particular crisis worker isn't feeling right to you, it's okay to bail. Referencing tip #1, you don't even have to explain yourself if you don't want. Three to five minutes in, if a comfortable vibe isn't there, you have every right to leave that conversation.

When I first started calling crisis lines, it never occurred to me that there was more than one person I could talk to. Seems like one of things that's obvious once someone tells you. But if you go in blind, how would you know that.

There are of course limits to this. There are only so many workers on call at any given time. You may even get paired with the same person twice in a row. If that happens, you can hang up and try again. If you're feeling assertive enough, explain that you want to talk to someone else. Again though - you're not required to do this and can hang up at any time.

4) My personal test for who I'll "vibe" with

After about my fourth or fifth time calling crisis lines, I started to gain a sense of who I liked and who I didn't like to talk to. Having learned the lessons above, I was becoming better equipped to leave conversations and crisis workers that didn't seem likely to help. And get better and finding individuals who could help.

I even found an instant litmus test that worked well for me. Right in the first 30 seconds, I now have an instant check on who probably will or won't help. You might eventually develop your own system. The people I like you may hate. The people I hate you may like. That is OKAY! The point here isn't to use my system. It's to think about recognizing who you click and don't click with to better equip yourself for finding the brand and style of help that suits you best.

My system...

I realized there are two ways crisis line workers will answer a call...

Type 1: "Hello, my name is _____". Followed by silence.

Type 2: "Hello, my name is _____. What has you calling in today?"

I do much better with Type 2 people. When I get a Type 1 response, I get terrified. One of my anxiety triggers is not knowing when I have "permission" to speak. With Type 2 people, they help me feel like I know when it's my turn to speak. And, interestingly, it seems like there's a correlation of personality that goes along with these two response types. I have never had a comforting call with a Type 1 person.  Only Type 2 people have even given me real help.

So, these days, when I call a crisis line I pretty much just keep calling and calling until I'm matched with a Type 2 person.

This doesn't mean every Type 2 person is perfect. But I've learned it tends to go much better.

Will end by reiterating - this is just what works for me. You might not build your own system. The main takeaway is - it's okay to not find a particular crisis line worker helpful and it's okay to keep calling in until you find one who you feel more comfortable with.

5) Every call has a required time limit, and you ARE allowed to call back after the first call

If you've never called a crisis line before, it may be useful to know that every call is only allowed to occur for a set time. I think it's usually about 40 min to 1 hour. Each call line may have its own rule.

This begs the question - what if an hour goes by and you're still in crisis? Are you just out of luck? Not at all. You can totally, absolutely call back in.

The reason the time limit is in place is that it helps create motivation for getting you to a more stable place. The ultimate goal of a crisis line isn't to have a therapy session. It's to get you on your feet enough to make it through that night. Onto the next day. Onto the next support system.

A crisis line is sort of like emotional first aide.

And let me tell you, I WISH there was more on offer. I wish there was a "call whenever, free one-hour therapy session whenever you want". Maybe one day. There's a whole other post about finding cost-effective longer term care options.

The point of this tip though - if you're not stabilized after call #1, you are allowed to call again and again. And again if necessary.

6) My first ever call felt super awkward and weird, and that's natural

This might not apply to everyone, but for me reaching out for help is scary as hell. I already have anxiety and assertiveness issues. And let's talk about what this resource is....

I was told to call this number. I have no idea what's going to happen when I call. I'm talking to a total and complete stranger. I didn't know what the expectations were. I didn't know what I was allowed or not allowed to do.

Hell yeah that's an uncomfortable experience.

Honestly, that's my inspiration for writing this post. I went in 100% blind and that made the experience worse than it otherwise might've been. Knowing what to expect seems like a form of empowerment.

If you are feeling uncomfortable, that is NOT your fault. That is the resource's fault for not doing the job it promised to do. It is not a failing of you, it is a failing of the system.

This post is, in some ways, my attempt to help contribute to the system and meet it halfway. There are things I myself can do to make the system work better for me. And there are things you may be able to do yourself to make the system work better for you.

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This resource brought to you by the currently unfunded Peer Voices Network. 

Please consider donating to support this work. I am disabled, financially struggling, and am forced by existing social structures into producing content like this for free. I hope those with means and privilege will eventually shift priorities toward increased support for lived experience content generation and expertise sharing. Donations are never required and always appreciated. 

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Setting Conversation Expectations

Setting Conversation Expectations

I've starting practicing a technique where, up front, without assuming, I make asks or what I want as well as ask others what, if anything, they might want out of a conversation. No demands. And I try to make room for adjustments to either person’s ask as needed.

Below is an example of what that might look like. Benefits of doing, for me, have included…

1) Feeling that both people have agency to makes adjustments to get their needs met.

2) Interaction starts off authentic and respectful. No-one feels any obligation that wasn't signed up for (so long as all responses were authentic and not passively resentful)

3) Mutual accountability. By entering into a mutual agreement, both people are aligned in a common set of goals. At any point, if the conversation goes off the rails, Both people know what the rails look like. Therefore, some level of accountability falls on each person for if/when things go off the rails. Both people know what to look out for so it’s two pairs of eyes watching for the same issues. Neither person is wholly responsible. And neither person is wholly not responsible for how this interaction goes. I

Final note - perfection is not the goal. The goal is getting some amount of needs met for each person. Things will come up mid-conversation. Time might run short. Expectation setting is not a contract. It's more like a road map. Either side can ask about mutual willingness to alter course if desired. And neither side is under obligation o meet 100% of the asks. Good faith effort toward aligned goals that were agreed to authentically. That’s the goal of this.

Example of an Expectation Setting Pre-Conversation Discussion

Person A: I had an awful feeling interaction at work this morning. I'd like to vent about work and just be heard, no need for response except maybe "that's sounds awful"

Person B: I'm willing to listen for maybe 15 minutes? Can get exhausting for me after that.

Person A: Fair enough, let's see how that goes. If it's not enough, maybe I could ask you again next week if things haven't gotten better?

Person B: Absolutely ask! Can't 100% know that I'll say yes. If I have time and energy, happy to listen more.

Person A: Thanks. Anything you want/need before we get started?

Person B: Oh, now that you ask, I've been wanting to tell someone a bit about my new gardening project.

Person A: Sounds interesting. As long as I'm not too worked up about my own issue to address, would be happy to hear about your gardening project. And if I a still too worked up, maybe write me about your gardening or talk about it later?

Person B: Sounds good.

Person A: Anything else?

Person B: Nope. And you?

Person A: Nope. Ready to hear about my work thing?

Person B: Yep. So what's been going on?

And the conversation can proceed with both people feeling safe through knowing what the parameters of the conversation may look like.

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Monday, July 20, 2020



Feb 2/24/2022 Note
If anyone stumbles across this post, it was just me fiddling around with Blogger as a test. Keeping this posted for now for sentimental value.