I have never been someone who can keep my problems to myself or deal with them quietly and stoically.
If something is going on in my life that's difficult or painful, I have to talk about it with someone. Talking about it helps me to process the situation, and it relieves the tension and anxiety that comes with ruminating.
I'm not always looking for a solution from the other person. Sometimes I just need a listening ear so I can unpack all of the emotions and gain more clarity about the problem.
Unfortunately, it took me a while to discover that not everyone is a good confidant. There are some people in my life with whom I can share the most private and painful feelings without concern. But there are others who are not empathic, trustworthy listeners.
Not everyone feels as comfortable as I do sharing their innermost feelings and painful challenges. They keep things inside and try to manage their problems and emotions alone.
This reticence might be part of their personality, or maybe they were taught as children not to “burden” others with problems and feelings. Some people keep things to themselves because they fear others might judge them or look down on them.
Or maybe, like me, they've bumped into people who did not treat their confidences with dignity and respect. Maybe they were even betrayed by someone they thought was a friend.
Whatever the reason, there are those who find it daunting to open up and talk about their problems with another person, even as they are suffering in silence with the anguish of their situation. Maybe this is how you feel.
Stuffing your feelings and trying to manage your problems alone is not a healthy way to cope with the inevitable ups and downs of life. Even if it feels uncomfortable or “weak,” talking to someone about your problems has many emotional and health benefits:
- It can improve your mood and help prevent stress, anxiety, and depression.
- It helps you find solutions and deal with challenges as you articulate the emotions and challenges.
- You feel less alone and isolated with your problem when you share it with some.
- If you are already depressed, you heal more quickly. Studies show that people with good social support get over depression faster and experience less severe symptoms.
- When our perceptions are clouded by painful emotions, other people can help us see things more clearly and rationally.
- Expressing emotions helps reduce the chances of acquiring stress-related health problems like muscle aches and tension headaches.
It's clear that sharing your problems and feelings helps you cope and reduces the burden of bearing them alone. The key is finding the right person or people to listen and support you.
Do you need to talk to someone? Here are 10 qualities to look for in a caring confidant:
1. Active Listener
A good confidant is someone who not only listens but who makes you feel heard.
They pay full attention when you are sharing your feelings and show that they are listening with eye contact, nodding, affirmative words, and affection.
An active listener doesn't need to offer advice (unless it's ask for) or deflect the conversation to their own problems. They are fully present for you and willing to validate the pain or discomfort you are feeling.
The best kind of support person not only sympathizes with what you're going through but also feels what you are feeling. They empathize with your confusion, pain, or self-doubt, and they want you to know how much they understand you.
They have walked the walk and can share some of the burden of your feelings because they have experienced something similar themselves.
An empathetic listener allows you to feel less alone with your challenge and helps you realize that you will survice this challenge and move past it.
The last thing you need when you're going through a challenge is someone who gossips about you or betrays your confidence.
You want a support person who treats your pain or difficulty with dignity and respect. They are capable of keeping their mouths shut, even when it's tempting to share a juicy piece of information or unburden themselves of your problem.
They have the integrity to honor your personal information by keeping it to themselves, even when you haven't specifically asked them too.
It's difficult to share something deeply personal, perhaps something that causes you guilt, shame, or regret, if you fear the listener will judge you harshly.
The best confidant is someone who recognizes the “humanness” in all of us — who has made mistakes themselves and understands the deep need to be loved and accepted in spite of our flaws.
A caring support person is someone who is true to themselves, who doesn't put on an act or try to play a role that feels false.
They can be vulnerable and open about their own challenges, emotions, and fears, making you feel more connected to them.
Authenticity is hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it. The person is open, straightforward, and without guise or pretense.
A big part of authenticity is self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to have introspection and to examine your own motives, desires, flaws, and responses.
A self-aware person has a better capacity to understand and empathize with others because they have plunged the depths of their own inner world.
They have a more intricate and complex perspective of the human condition and can therefore understand and relate to ambiguities, complicated emotions, and difficult decisions.
When you are going through a difficult time, you don't need someone who will fall apart, get hysterical, or behave dramatically.
You're already feeling highly emotional or even ready to fall apart yourself. You need a steady hand and a calm disposition to keep you grounded and rational so you can think about solutions to your situation.
The best support person is the one who can remain unperturbed and focused in order to help you take the best actions.
Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees when you're in the midst of a challenge. Your emotions might cloud your judgment, or they might make it difficult for you to take action at all.
A good support person can look at the situation objectively, see what you aren't able to see, and kindly point out alternative points of view or a better course of action.
They can see through the fog of fear and confusion you're feeling to get to the meat of the situation and help you clarify it.
Most life challenges take some time to sort through. When you have strong emotions, it can take hours or days just to settle your feelings in order to really address the problem.
You need a confidant who is patient with you, even if you get stuck or angry. Sometimes you just need them to sit with you and listen as you vent the depths of your despair or frustration.
It's not always easy for a support person to patiently listen without offering solutions or telling you to “just get over it.” But this patience pays off because it gives you the space you need to process your feelings and figure out your next steps at a pace that is right for you.
When we're going through a challenge, we all want to feel hope. We want to believe that things will work out for the best and that something positive will emerge from the difficulty we're experiencing.
Having someone in your corner who sees the glass half full and who has the clarity to recognize that “this too shall pass” will give you the strength and courage to keep going.
A happy, positive person (who isn't offering false cheerfulness or unrealistic outcomes) will buoy you as you work toward solutions and heal from your pain.
If you are going through a life challenge and need someone to talk to, don't go it alone. Look around at your family and friends. Which of them have most of the qualities listed above?
Reach out to this person and ask if they are willing to provide a listening ear to help you cope with your challenge. If they are empathic and caring, they will likely be flattered that you reached out to them.
If you can't find someone in your circle you can to talk to, consider finding a licensed counselor who has these qualities. They are legally bound by confidentiality, and a good therapist has been trained to develop these interpersonal skills.