It's Not About The Nail

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

We've all heard the stereotype before: men want to fix problems and women just want their problems to be understood.

Okay, obviously that's a bit of an extreme example.  But the truth is that all of us (men and women alike) get stuck in moments where our emotion-heavy right brain takes over our logic-centered left brain.  Small issues seem monumental in these moments and it often seems like there's no end in sight.  It can be particularly frustrating to be on the other end of this exchange; to be the one trying to help someone that just doesn't seem to want help.  Like the boyfriend in the video we know how to solve the problem, but our logic doesn't seem to resonate and certainly doesn't provide comfort.

In their book The Whole Brain Child Tina Bryson and Dan Siegel present a strategy called Connect and Redirect.  The idea is that when someone is caught up in an emotional flood they are viewing the world with their right brain.  In order to be effective you must first connect with them, right brain to right brain.  That means setting logic aside for the moment and empathizing.  It is important to make the person "feel felt" by listening without judgement, providing soothing physical touch, showing empathetic facial expressions, and using a calming tone of voice.  Affirming phrases such as "I can see how upset you are" or "I understand that this is hard for you" can also be helpful.

Redirection can be effective only once the connection is made.  Once the person "feels felt" their left brain becomes more available to participate in the situation.  When emotions have calmed it can be helpful to guide the person into logical problem solving.  It's important to remember that as adults we tend to get more satisfaction out of solving our own problems than by having them solved for us, so avoid telling the person what they need to do.  Questions such as "What do you think might change if you took the nail out of your head?"  are more effective than statements like "You would feel better if you'd just take that nail out of your head."  Obviously, if the person is in imminent danger (as someone would be if they actually had a nail in their head) these rules don't apply!

What are some techniques that you have found helpful when trying to soothe someone? What about when you are the one needing soothing?

1 comment

  1. I love all that you've pointed out here, Amanda, in nail-piercing fashion, I might add! But to answer the question you've posed, I think it's helpful to put aside my agenda to tell someone how to fix it, so that "I" can understand their feelings better. I'm not talking about how it soothes the other person when I do this (although it does, as you've helped us to see), but how it can soothe me and redirect me to what I truly need--and that means not being the "fixer" of their problem, but rather the sharer of their burden. Thanks for sharing this at Wedded Wed, and FYI your book is in the mail! :)