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Normalizing Mental Health Requires Normalizing Emotions

Do you find yourself apologizing for having emotions?

Think about the number of times something has moved you to tears – out of joy, sorrow, or surprise – and you’ve said to the people around you, “I’m sorry.”

Why are you sorry? If we’re going to have a genuine conversation about emotions, we have to stop apologizing.

It’s time to dive into a conversation about normalizing mental health – because our propensity to apologize for having feelings stunts our emotional growth.

Two questions arise for me with this tendency…

  • What is it about showing emotions that people feel they need to say sorry?
  • Why do we let people get away with apologizing?

Have we numbed compassion and vulnerability?

Imagine two scenarios…you’re the manager of a long-term care home:

Scenario 1

You’re walking down the hallway when a nurse emerges from one of the resident’s rooms, one who’s been struggling for the past three weeks.

“Bob Smith has died,” the nurse informs you. “We’ll need to arrange removal of the body and a thorough cleaning so another resident can be admitted. We need the bed.”

Scenario 2

You’re walking down the hallway when a nurse emerges from Bob Smith’s room with tears in his eyes. With a voice that is choked up with some emotions shares;

“Bob has passed away. We should contact his family and let the staff know…they’ve all become very attached to him. How would you like to proceed?”

Who do you want to work for you?

Do you want a nurse, paramedic, manager, teacher who is utterly indifferent to human suffering and loss? Do you give your staff space and respect to grieve, experience frustration, or address feelings that many times English words just do not work?

Or, do you train your staff to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ and conceal their vulnerabilities?

If we’re going to foster conversations about normalizing mental health – in ways that give people space and resources to understand their feelings and manage them – we’re going to have to change the way we view emotions.

Companies talk about mental health, but those conversations rarely get traction.

Normal reactions to abnormal events

That’s what we’re talking about, and I can cite so many examples…

  • A paramedic when they are dealing with the sudden death of a young child, or their neighbour.
  • Police or firefighters who go into situations that the vast majority of us would run away from.
  • Workplaces where a beloved employee was diagnosed only to suddenly die from the disease.

The list could go on forever with all the different situations that trigger normal reactions from normal people to abnormal events.

And yet, we tend to suppress these reactions…or worse, react in a normal way and then apologize for it or get criticized for it.

That cycle has to cease.

One of the methods for stopping this cycle is cognitive reframing – a version of cognitive therapy that addresses these common traps, or distortions:

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing situations in absolute terms.
  2. Blaming: Attributing complex problems to a single cause.
  3. Catastrophizing: Always imaging the worst thing that can happen in any situation.
  4. Discounting the positive: Ignoring or discounting the good things that happen to you.
  5. Mental filters: Focusing only on the negatives and never on the positives.
  6. “Should” statements: Always feeling like you’ve failed to live up to expectations of what you “should” do in a situation.

Ending the cycle of numbing emotions

Normalizing Mental Health Requires Normalizing Emotions

We’re going to explore the notion of “Krisis” – not a typo – next week.

For now, let’s address some of the simple ways you can stop the cycle of numbing your emotions or making those around you feel as though they have to conceal their real feelings.

1. Watch in your own home

How many times do the people in your home apologize for being emotional? What is it that they are emotional about? If it’s something that matters to them, should it matter to us?

I’ll answer that for you: yes.

2. Watch in your workplace

Extend these observations to your office. The tragic irony is that many times – when we express interest – people will actually ask about our motives. How sad is that?

Ask your colleague what you could do to be a support for them?

Just to be clear, this will immediately separate those of us with a backbone and those of us without.

It is so easy to lecture, fix or diagnose a person with unhelpful comments like,

Come on. You shouldn’t feel that way; you’re okay.
You just need to deal with it and get over it!

You don’t need a fresh coat of paint

All too often, people find the cracks in your emotional walls uncomfortable. And they offer to slap on a fresh coat of paint.

What you really need, though, is a good sanding.

Whether you’re dealing with joy or grief, we must give people opportunities to explore their mental health – cracks and all. We have to sand our hardened and cracked surfaces down to their original structure. Look at how the walls were built. Find the sources of weakness. Shore them up, then rebuild.

How many are addressing the crisis reactions – particularly during the pandemic? I don’t know how abnormalizing normal reactions or not accepting them as normal ones move this discussion in a positive, progressive way.

Would you like guidance as you explore emotions in a genuine way? Contact us, and we’ll help you start authentic conversations about loss, grief, joy…and help you create an environment of trust.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

Finishing Well Requires Self-examination And a Will To Matter
Psychological First Aid
Run towards the roar