I always say that mental illness is not our fault. It is nothing to be blamed for. However, it is our responsibility. It is up to us to manage our symptoms, understand and manage our behaviours, and keep in mind how we interact with the people around us and how our challenges might affect them. Many mental illnesses or disorders have interpersonal symptoms. The unique challenges we face due to our symptoms affect the way we react to other people and can have tremendous impact on our relationships and our communication.
This is something I work on with clients. When I mentor them, we focus on concrete tools and strategies we can implement regularly to mitigate the effects of our interpersonal ineffectiveness. It’s about figuring out the motivations behind behaviours that aren’t necessarily helpful, and finding an alternative that will preserve and strengthen our relationships while allowing us to provide ourselves with what we need as well.
I have been connecting with a new client on exactly this and I wanted to share the skills we are working on. We are focusing on ineffective or unhealthy reactions to interpersonal triggers.
When someone acts towards us in a way that triggers our vulnerabilities or insecurities, our reaction might not be the healthiest. It is easy to get carried away in the emotions. The problem is, we act from our emotional mind as opposed to our logical mind because bridging the gap between the two can be extremely difficult, especially in the moment.
Here are some things to try:
· Create distance between you and the situation: whether physically and/or time-wise, If possible, excuse yourself to the washroom, to step outside, to step to another room to take the time you need.
· Use this time to regulate: use the distance you’ve just created to practice some self-regulation and soothe your intense emotions. This could mean a breathing exercise, a grounding exercise, self-talk, etc. Remember that the more intense the emotion, the more intense the soothing or regulating exercise will have to be.
· Come back to your logical mind: find a way to rationalize the situation. This requires self-awareness and focus. It’s important to gauge the situation and look at every angle. What state is the person who triggered you in? What was their intention? What impact did it have on you? How close is your relationship with them?
· Assess your own emotions: now that you’ve decreased the intensity of your emotions, really think about them. The most important question is what was their purpose. What need were you asking to have fulfilled with your emotional reaction? What were these emotions asking for?
· Find a healthier way to ask for that need to be fulfilled: now that you know what you were hoping to gain from the interaction, think of a healthier way to ask for this. Remember how your reaction will prompt the other person to act or communicate. For example, if your partner says something hurtful, your emotional reaction may be asking for love and reassurance. If you respond with anger, your partner will likely not respond compassionately. If you respond with honesty and vulnerability about how that comment affected you, you are more likely to receive what you need as you are creating a sense of understanding in your partner and creating a non-confrontational situation.
· Practice self-care afterwards: once you have handled the situation, take time for yourself and do something you enjoy or that soothes you. This is also a reward of sorts for acting in a way that was more effective than reactions you may have had in the past.
Doing all these things is only possible if you step away from the situation to come back to your logical mind and to assess. As you practice this skill, you may be able to do this on the fly as you face the situation.
Interpersonal situations can be extremely difficult for anyone with a mental illness or disorder that is mood related or that has symptoms relating to social interaction. These skills will help you remain more effective when communicating with the people around you. It won’t be easy and that’s why it’s important to practice as often as possible.