When Someone You Love Has Depression

When Someone You Love Has Depression.

Depression builds walls around people and between people. When someone you love has been dragged inside those walls, there can be a distance between you both that feels relentless. You miss them, but they’re right there beside you, except that they’re kind of not. Not in the way you both want to be anyway.

The symptoms of depression exist on a spectrum. All of them are normal human experiences, but in depression they’re intensified. Not everyone who has depression will have a formal diagnosis, so knowing what to watch out for can help to make sense of the changes you might notice.

Depression looks like a withdrawal. It feels that way too. It’s a withdrawal from everything that is enriching and life-giving. Depression sucks the life out of life. That’s how it feels. When depression bites, everything becomes hard. Life starts to hurt. Those who are bitten stop looking forward to things. They stop engaging and they stop enjoying things, even the things they used to love. They can feel hard to reach, and sometimes they can be angry or appear as though they don’t care. That isn’t because they want to withdraw from you or push you away, they don’t, although it can feel that way. 

Here are some ways to fight for them, beside them and for the times the fight has to be theirs, behind them:

  1. Depression is never a choice.

    If people with depression could be happy, they would be. Depression leaves people feeling as though they’ve been scooped out with a spoon. It’s a hijacking of everything that feels good. The hopelessness, emptiness and loneliness is relentless. If they knew how to be any other way, they would be. 

  2. It’s okay to feel frustrated or angry.

    The helplessness of loving someone with depression can be frustrating, exhausting and lonely. It’s okay to feel angry at times, or as though you want to throw your hands in the air and walk away. You’re human and when you love someone with depression, there will be times that you’ll be in the arena too, fighting the battle. Remember that you’re fighting a common enemy and it’s depression, not the person beside you. Try to see through the symptoms to the person you know, because they’re in there.

  3. Depression is a withdrawal, but not from you.

    When you love someone with depression it can feel as though you’ve lost them for a while. The person you’ve always known and loved is still there, but they’ve withdrawn into themselves, away from the pain and hopelessness of it all, not away from you. It just feels like the safest place to be, but it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have you right there with them if they knew how to do that.

  4. You’re grieving too.

    Depression steals people. If the depression has been around for long enough, you might feel a sense of grief. If you need to get angry, sad, or fall to your knees some days, that’s okay. You’re fighting a battle too. It’s okay to pull back to recharge now and then. Be kind to yourself and do something that replenishes you. Reach out to someone, but don’t lean on the person with depression. People with depression already see themselves as a burden, and anything that inflames that might cause them to withdraw even more.

  5. When nothing is as powerful as something.

    People with depression won’t always have the words and will feel the burden of being with you when they don’t know what to say or do. Let them know that you love that version of them too – the one that has nothing to say, or plenty to say but no will to say it. Let them know that you’re there for them even if they don’t want to talk. Silence with someone can be lovely when you’re depleted. ‘You don’t have to be anyone different to who you are. You don’t need to change or pretend or put on a happy face. I love you and I’m here for you.’

  6. People with depression are strong.

    People with depression are some of the strongest people I’ve met. They have to be. The pain and hopelessness of depression is immense and to keep existing day after day under the weight of that takes an almighty fight, fuelled by almighty strength and courage. 

  7. What they’re doing makes sense.

    We all have needs we can’t give up. They’re the big ones and they’re an inescapable part of being human – love, validation, respect, visibility, safety, influence, connection, appreciation, purpose. You know the ones. When one of these needs isn’t met, the temptation can be to push it down – to ‘depress’ it – to where it’s out of awareness and can’t cause trouble. But of course, any symptom whether physical or emotional will always cause trouble when it’s ignored. It takes the strength of a warrior to keep pushing things down, and getting on with life. Eventually, when people have been strong for too long the armour will crack. Depression hurts, but it makes sense. It’s a creative, adaptive withdrawal from a world that feels painful to be in.

  8. Being positive probably won’t work.

    Reframing things positively is generally done with loving intent, but most likely it just won’t work. The messages that are sent with love will likely be received as ‘nobody understands’. For someone who is being caned by depression, there is no positive. Research has found that people who are already unhappy don’t want to be talked into the glossy view of life, they just want understanding. The view of reality is shaped by a lifetime of experience and sometimes, the way people see the world is exactly the way the world is for them. Trying to push against this can work against what you’re trying to do and intensify the loneliness and desperation of it all. Reframing things in a positive way is important, but it can’t be forced.

  9. So if positive is out, what then?

    You don’t have to fix anything or change anything. If there was a way to do that, they would have done it themselves by now. Instead, acknowledge their pain, ‘I know this is really hard for you,’ and validate what they’re going through ‘I know you’re hurting. That’s understandable given what you’re going through’, or ‘I know you’re fighting a tough battle right now.’ Be the one who can be with them without having to change them. This will probably explode your own feelings of helplessness, but reworking things towards a positive angle will ease your helplessness, not theirs. That helplessness you’re feeling is the bit you’re doing together. So is the pain and the confusion of that. That’s what makes your love unconditional and your support something extraordinary.

  10. Try not to let the negative talk go on and on and on and on and …

    It’s really important to hear people from where they are, but if the discussion of a negative thought goes on and on and on and starts to feel circular, it’s not good for anyone. It’s called rumination and it can make it harder to move through depression. Talk about it with them for sure, but try to persuade the conversation in a different direction after a while if you can.

  11. If you’re struggling for words, let those be the words.

    There’s no need to gloss it up. The truth is that it’s hard to know what to say because there’s nothing that can take away the pain. Don’t worry about saying the ‘right’ thing, there is no right thing. Instead say the ‘real’ thing with love and an open heart. Share what you’re feeling, because chances are that they’re feeling it too. Common ground will shrink the distance between you. You might not be depressed, but chances are you’ll be feeling a lot of the things they’re feeling – sadness, confusion, frustration, helplessness, and the greatest wish that you knew how to make it better. ‘I wish that you weren’t in so much pain and I wish I knew how to soften things for you, but I don’t know how to do that. What I will do is be here for you for as long as it takes.’

  12. Ask them what you do that doesn’t help. And listen.

    Depression can be different for everyone. You can’t be expected to know how to respond. Ask what they need from you and whether there’s something they need you to do differently. Be open to the response and don’t take it personally.

  13. Don’t ask them what they’re depressed about.

    When people are sad they generally have an idea of why. Depression doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes people will be aware of what has triggered their depression, but sometimes it won’t be obvious. On paper, people with depression can look as though they have everything to be happy about – they can even believe that themselves – but depression doesn’t play by any rules.

  1. Try to initiate the things they used to love, that depression has stolen.

    At a time when people need connection the most, depression forces distance. Do everything you can not to let it. Connection and positive feelings strengthen the brain against depression, and exercise can cause the same changes in the brain as antidepressants. The problem is that the very nature of depression will hold people back from doing any of these. Don’t wait for them to feel like doing things. They won’t. Their depression won’t let them. Depression is there to nurture withdrawal, remember. It does this by stealing motivation, and creating exhaustion. Be tender, gentle and loving and reintroduce them to life, connection, and positive feelings. You’re likely to get resistance, and a lot of it. Know that this isn’t personal and do what you can do anyway.

  2. Another reason to initiate.

    Thoughts, feelings and behaviours are intimately connected. They tend to follow each other, so someone with depression will think depressed thoughts (‘Nothing makes a difference’; ‘I’m useless’), feel depressed feelings (pain, hopelessness, exhaustion) and this will drive depressed behaviour (withdrawal and a depressed mood). A change in one will eventually lead to the other but the change is unlikely come from the person with depression. Out of the three, thoughts and feelings are the toughest to change. They’re tenacious. This is why things like, ‘get over it’ or ‘it’s not that bad’ or ‘just try to be a bit positive, hey?’ won’t work. The best way is through their behavior, but you’ll have to be stronger than their depression. Initiate walks, dinners, holidays – anything that has the potential to create positive feelings. Take their hand and lead them there gently.

  3. They are not broken.

    There is nothing abnormal about the symptoms of depression. They’re a very normal part of human experience, but with an intensity that’s relentless. We’ve all felt sad, disconnected, the need to withdraw, hopeless, helpless, exhausted, and as though the fun has faded for a while These are all common experiences, even if only fleetingly at times and from the kinder end of the spectrum. What makes these very human experiences lead to a diagnosis of depression is a question of degree. People with depression experience the same we all experience, but at a different intensity, duration, or cluster of symptoms. 

Depression rarely takes hold of just one person. When depression settles into someone, helplessness, fear and sadness bleed through the walls it builds around that person and into the lives of those who love them. It’s exhausting for everyone. There is always a way through depression but it takes an almighty fight. You won’t always have it in you to fight alongside them and you won’t always know what to do but that’s okay – you don’t have to do any of that to fight for them. Few things are as powerful as human connection and anything you can do to nurture that will help to put back what depression strips away.

328 Comments

Sherry

Hi

Thank you for your post,I’m currently going through the exact same situation. What’s worse for me is that my previous boyfriend committed suicide due to depression so I get triggered everytime I see hopelessness in my current boyfriend. He’s the love of my life and I don’t want to leave him but I feel so helpless when he’s in this state,sometimes I feel like I contribute towards it because I get frustrated when he won’t talk to me.
I’ve decided to go see a psychologist to help me deal with my own traumas so that I’m in a better state of mind for our well being.
It helps knowing there is someone out there that can relate to what I’m going through and I wish nothing but healing everyone,may your relationship grow from this.We can’t let depression beat us.

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Ludmila

I’m at a very low point with my relationship of 2 years and the comments on this article is what I didn’t know I needed. It kinda helps knowing I’m not alone cause honestly when you love someone with depression, loneliness sets in. My boyfriend told me eventful that he doesn’t think I should wait for him to get better because I don’t deserve how I’m feeling.

I’ve made it such a point that I’ll fight for us so it’s really heartbreaking that he would say this even after I make sure to remind him often that I’m here for him. I love this man so deeply and I thought we will be together for a long time. He was even included me in all his future and present plans so believe me when I say I don’t understand what’s happening.

How can he be crying on my shoulder one moment and now saying he doesn’t think I should wait?? I don’t know what to do, but hat I’d still fighting is putting myself at risk? I have been feeling lonely and missing the man that loves me but when do I get the memo to leave? I mean he said it with his mouth and I know depression makes you have low thoughts towards yourself and worth but he said it and doesn’t that mean he means it?? It sounds like he might also be saying he doesn’t want this but just the thought of that makes me so heartbroken and devastated. I thought this man was my man and he gave me the impression that I was the woman for him.

I don’t know how to feel or what to think or what to do. I’m actually lost…so lost. Why is he pushing me away? I don’t understand.

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Sherry

Hi

Thank you for your post,I’m currently going through the exact same situation. What’s worse for me is that my previous boyfriend committed suicide due to depression so I get triggered everytime I see hopelessness in my current boyfriend. He’s the love of my life and I don’t want to leave him but I feel so helpless when he’s in this state,sometimes I feel like I contribute towards it because I get frustrated when he won’t talk to me.
I’ve decided to go see a psychologist to help me deal with my own traumas so that I’m in a better state of mind for our well being.
It helps knowing there is someone out there that can relate to what I’m going through and I wish nothing but healing for you and your partner,may your relationship grow from this.

Reply
LF

Hi, my name is L. I am an 18 year old female, dating an 18 year old male. We have been dating for almost 5 months, and we’ve been friends for 5 years. Around 3 or 4 weeks ago, I noticed something going on with my boyfriend. It started with him ranting about how he feels guilty for the way he treats his sibling, and how he can’t control it. He then started to tell me overtime how his life at home has become very toxic(he told me kind of what’s happening, but not going into full detail) but he hates being home. Over the past few weeks, he has significantly gotten worse. He hasn’t made plans with me when I would sleep over at least once a week, he stopped saying I love you, stopped sending hearts, stopped calling me babe/baby and started using my name. When we see each other he talks to me and smiles, but it just isn’t the same as before. He looks so tired & I can just see & tell in his eyes he isn’t the same. We both just started college, we go to the same school. He tells me how he’s been so stressed and school makes it so much worse. He also is about to start a second job, which makes me worry because he already works a physically demanding job that requires him to be outside, and he always says how tired he is from that job, I can’t imagine two and it makes me worry. He says he doesn’t want to go into great detail about what’s happening at home because he doesn’t want it to affect me to. I think this is because I am very close to his family, and have been for years. I have such a great relationship especially with his mom and little sister. He’s apologized for acting distant and tells me it’s not my fault. The other day, I kind of lashed out on him. He had not been texting me back and I saw he was at his friends house. It made me feel so frustrated because he only acts stressed, and unhappy with me. It’s like our whole relationship became about him and it made me take it very personal, I started to feel like it’s my fault, that he just doesn’t have feelings for me anymore. I sent him a text along the times of “im just gonna text you tomorrow, night” & he replied an hour later, they were working on his friends car and I had told him earlier that day to have time for himself and friends. I felt so guilty, I realized I acted out of emotion, and I told him “hey, when we both have the time we should schedule a time to talk in person.” I guess he read this as I’m going to break up with him, and started apologizing like crazy. He said he was sorry for not showing me the love I deserve recently, that he understands if I hate him and if I don’t want to be with him. He said he’s just been having such a rough time, and he feels hopeless. I reassured him that I just wanted to talk and it was nothing bad but we never ended up scheduling that time. I’ve been trying to support him the best way I could, giving him both space and reassurance, telling him I’m there for him if he needs me. But it’s been taking a toll on me too. About 2 days ago, we were texting and I told him it’s been hurting seeing him like this and it’s hurting our relationship. I asked him why it was so hard for him to say I love you. He said he fakes a smile constantly, and when he gets home at the end of the day he just has no energy. He tells me he knows he hasn’t been treating me the same, and he apologizes but still says he still “really really” loves me but he’s just trying to get back to how he was before and love himself first. I told him I understand, and I’ve been trying my best to give him space because he told me advice doesn’t really work. He finally said the words “I love you” for the first time in 2 weeks. Even over the past 3 weeks this has been going on, he never failed to text me to make sure I ate and had rested after work and school. I do believe he loves me still, he’s been really stressed and said he’s feeling really depressed. It’s been hard, even if it’s only been a short amount of time. Depression is so evil and vile, it preys on anybody no matter the age, gender, race, how happy they are, etc. I really hope he is able to get better, I love him a lot as a girlfriend but also as a close friend who doesn’t want to watch him suffer and dig himself deeper into a hole. He’s been through so much, I want to see him be happy even if it’s not with me. As much as it would hurt, he is genuinely such a good person, I’ve always admired that about him. He deserves good things, and good feelings. I hope we are able to move past this. Thank you for the article, it helps a lot. Hopefully I’ll update in some time with good news.

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ck

my gf stays away and she goes thru anxiety and guilty feelings often for no reason she knows.she says she doesnt know why she is the way she is. she ignores my presence. but i want to be there for her and cant leave her like this. not sure how to help her and make her feel better. i cant sit and watch her go thru this. any advise?

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Micaw

Hey everyone,

what a great article, thank you for posting this.

I just started seeing someone about a month ago who recently told me they have depressive episodes. We’ve been on two dates, share the same humour, talked for hours, kissed… all that. And I feel like we really click with each other. Been calling each other a lot but after that they kind of fell silent a couple of days. I felt bad, thought I’d done something wrong or they had lost interest even though they’d said/done the opposite.

When they told me I felt relief to know what’s really goin on (and that they trust me enough to actually tell me..) but at the same time I’m worried I’ll do something wrong. I try to be patient and not to push too much or text them too often even though I’m really really smitten with them.. but if anybody has some advice what else I could do to make them feel.. not better, better isn’t a good word I think. But to feel comfortable.. with me. That’d help a lot.

I really want this to work and I don’t see them as another person ever since they told me but I’m aware of this now and I wish to be there for them. Any help really is appreciated

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Jacque

Thank you so so much. This was so helpful. It has made me feel more confident in my relationship with my boyfriend who is struggling with depression. It’s us against the depression.

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Chantelle

youre not alone. I have been going through the samething with my fiance of 8 years. You have done the hard part which is to walk away and give him space now its just time. Please wait until he gets back rational thinking until this time he wont be able to cope with what a relationship encompasses in general whether its with u or someone else (nothing personal to u) and u will suffer too as u will want to help him but unfortunately this is something that he can only help himself get out of. Maybe ask him what he needs u to do to help but be prepared if one of those things is space from u, dont take it personal it will just allow him time to get back to normal self again and to process hurt or guilt or any negative emotion that he is feeling. Stay strong and continue to show understanding. Remember what will be will be

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Lisa

This is an amazing article. This was exactly what I needed to read. It helps me understand him and also myself. Thank you!!!!

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Rebecca G

Thanks for explaining that depression isn’t a choice since people would choose to be happy if they could. One of my close friends recently told me she’s looking for a psychotherapy service since she’s been struggling with depression for about six months now. I’m glad I read your article so I can better understand what she’s going through and support her however I can during this hard time.

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Sabrina N

I have a friend who was abused by his mother and kicked out of his house when he was 17. He struggles with depression and anxiety, and I don’t know what to do. He pushes me and others away so as not to hurt us because he believes that’s all he can do.

Can someone please tell me what to do or what not to do?

Right now….anything would help.

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Ankur S

Help him in every way you can. Have a heart to heart talk. Trust me, if he pushes you away doesn’t mean he doesn’t need help. People who suffer from depression are unable to login express anything properly and that includes the need for love and help. They are too scared to trust others and can often push away people because of the pain that they carry inside themselves. I too suffer from depression and being in a relationship too has not been able to get me out of it. It’s taken a hold of me and even though it might take a while, I don’t plan on giving up. The same is with your friend. Don’t give up on him and push him to fight as hard as he can. Talking helps. If he is unwilling to talk don’t give up from ur side. Ofcourse you have a life as well and your own plans for your day to day life but even a minute of talking or a help or even a bit of care might help him break the shell he is in and help him reach out to the people that matter to him. Best wishes. And I pray and hope your friend gets better.

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John

Loving someone with any metal illness is like taking the most emotional rollercoaster possible. In my case i’m lucky, i knew my girlfriend had severe issues before we got involved but it doesn’t stop me feeling that i’ve been put through the wringer more often than not. When her mindset is in it’s calm spot i couldn’t be happier, but when the paranoia and self doubt creeps in i take the brunt of it all. one moment we’re talking kids, house and walks on the beach with puppies, next moment were split up…it can be hell !
All i can say to anyone in a serious relationship of any kind with someone suffering mental issues is don’t take it personally, it’s not something they want to do. It’s not something they have a choice about, don’t stop caring and don’t stop believing in yourself. They may get better through treatment or medications, but they also may not. I’ts not something you can wave a magic wand at make go away, And finally….don’t ignore the support you need, get help for yourself before you fall don exhausted. My thoughts and love go to everyone, you’re not alone.

8

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Ciara

Thank you for this. This is what I needed to hear today. My boyfriend broke up with me because he’s depressed and anxious. I know he loves me but all this stuff is eating him up alive

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Natasha

I have the same problem .My BF is depressed from already 3 months .He did split up with me a few times then I bring him back but we don’t meet each other anymore ,he never answer the phone we only texing .He told me he loves me ,same time he spend time somewhere on drugs all the time .He is really in a bad way and I don’t know what to do

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Shirley

I’ve just been diagnosed with nodules on my lungs my boyfriend was depressed before and now he seems worse doesn’t want any intimacy with me making me feel very unloved

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Michelle

Me and my girlfriend just took a break after 1 year+ dating. She said she is scared of me, she told me she felt happy and loved when we both spend time together but she can’t see past the fears for me (showing me her depressed side.). She also doesn’t know if she still loves me. She said sometimes she felt like she miss me and love me so much but the other time it’s zero and I told her that you don’t always have to love me, it’s normal to have normal days sometimes (I’ve asked around and my friends say it’s normal.) this is why she wanted the break.

She still texts me but I try not to to not influence her judgement on whether she loves me or not. The day it happened she suddenly changed to a different person and so cold to me. I cried at her doorstep, it hurts me so much. I wasn’t eating properly for few days. Now after reading this article, I understand her better and know that I can’t take it personally. Thank you so much.

I also took a break to be more patient and understand her situation. She asks me to wait for her and I treat is as if we already broke up so I won’t get so hurt when she gave me a bad news (maybe she doesn’t love me anymore). I even asked her to just break up with me bcs I realised I was hurting her with her being scared of me and it drives me insane. I never wanted to hurt her.

Is it normal for her to feel this way?

What should I do to help her?

Reply

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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