Written by Sarah Benedicte Florander
Struggling with problems, however minor or large, is something every human being experiences. In life, we are often taught to grit our teeth together and push forward. Sometimes however, these issues compile into a tangled web of issues that can become impossible to untangle on your own, eventually permeating your daily life and functioning.
In many ways, society carries with it a sense of expectation that should you stumble, you are wholly responsible in making sure you get back up. In reality, few can do this entirely without some sort of support network. Often times, we hide our struggles in an attempt to seem like we are coping effectively (even from close friends and family), without consideration for how these issues may compound over time, often manifesting in the form of health issues (of the mind and the body).
Often times, we are redirected in these times of turbulence towards the notion that we should pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and take the troubles we encounter in our stride. This aspect of responsibility and strength is a necessary characteristic to nurture in any human being, (life being the uncontrollable chaos that it is), however we often forget to put an equal amount of emphasis on our lives as inherently social beings. And as social beings, we require input and support from each other. Seeking guidance in times of trouble is therefore, I argue, a powerfully strong choice to make for yourself. Rather than viewing this as a sort of reliance on others, or an outsourcing of responsibility, I see it as a sign that one is capable of accepting the importance of connection and outside perspective as undeniable ingredients in growth and progress – both for yourself and for those around you.
Without further ado, here are a few reasons why I believe seeking guidance can help you move forward:
1. Gain perspective on your situation
I don’t know about you, but I tend to think myself into a rut. Thoughts compound into a vicious circle of negativity, and even if I pull myself out of it (usually through temporary distraction tactics *cough* Netflix *cough*), it always returns with a vengeance. Usually I tend to believe I can continue coping by telling myself my issues are minor (sometimes they are, sometimes they’re really not), but the truth of the matter is, I only ever feel a sense of relief after having talked it out with someone. It’s taken me many years to get to the point of feeling comfortable speaking about my issues (even with friends and family), but I found that once I did, their perspectives on my situation often dragged me out of my own vicious thought-cycle.
If you are anything like me, you are probably your own worst critic. And in that case, any issue, problem or situation you encounter is being immediately judged by that critic (yourself). No matter how positively you try to orient your thoughts, you will still be condemned by your own expectations and standards. Seeking an outsider’s perspective is therefore incredibly important in order to escape your own mind. They provide different opinions, perspectives and input drawn from their own unique experiences that can be invaluable resources for you. The process of stepping back and viewing your situation from the outsiders perspective can help you reflect on things differently than you have.
That tangled mess of issues that to you might seem overwhelmingly intertwined, might to others look messy but manageable. Imagine yourself contained within a maze of your own making, a mind-maze, if you will. Standing within the maze, you cannot get a true sense of the size of the maze, what it looks like on the outside, or what alternative routes exist.
In a sense, seeking an outsider’s point of view can function very much like asking somebody hovering above this maze you’re stuck in to provide you with directions that they can identify. They might not have all the answers, but every person you approach will have a different perspective of your maze. Seeking outside guidance then, can be an exercise in building a map of your issues/problems/situation/life, where different types of input helps you chart new directions. Of course, the path you choose in the end is yours to decide – but it doesn’t hurt to expand the view of the paths that are available to you that you might not be able to see yourself. Having somebody who isn’t living inside that maze (you) provide you with fresh perspectives and alternate routes can therefore be of enormous help.
2. Sharing can be healing
Feeling isolated and misunderstood is the worst. In the depths of our despair (or even in minor annoyance), we often forget that there are millions of other equally complex and equally distraught human beings on this planet with us. Somehow though, we tend to think we’re alone in experiencing a situation or feeling. Perhaps we even feel ashamed, thinking that nobody else could possibly understand. Often, this assumption that people around us always lead these trouble-free, perfect lives lead us to isolation. We are scared of sharing, scared of opening up for fear that we will be judged. Some people will of course, which in reality is only a reflection of the imbalanced lack of empathy their own struggles had led them to embrace, but others are most likely walking an equally bumpy and difficult path.
Of course, the fear that we will be judged is not an unfounded one – plenty of people are, to be quite direct, shitty people. But it is important to recognise that they themselves are most likely going through something causing them to be that way. In opening up about something incredibly private for the first few times, I find it is important to recognise that there are some people you should look to seek out over others. Spaces that provide both a measure of comfort, confidentiality and safety is imperative.
The process of transforming thought into word is in itself helpful. Sometimes, the words you choose to express how you feel can make you more aware of what it is you really feel. Bouncing those thoughts off of another person is also a productive way of sorting through your feelings, as they can provide both reflection and critique. Already starting a conversation with another human being can make you realise things about yourself and your situation that you were previously unaware of – and if the person you are talking to responds negatively to your sharing, that is also an opportunity to gage whether or not this is a person you want in your life. In my perspective, if the person on the receiving end is not willing to hear you out, or invalidates the way you feel, you’ve done yourself a great favour in figuring out that the person might not have the best in mind for you.
In most scenarios however, the act of sharing is a bridge of connection. Perhaps at first it might feel uncomfortable and like you are invading someone’s space with your problems, but from personal experience you will most likely find out that the other person have problems they’ve been dying to talk about as well. There is a certain strength and dignity with somebody who has the confidence and grace in making themselves vulnerable. Know that by making yourself available to others, you are building underneath you the power to stand behind your words, your thoughts, your feelings and experiences. By opening up, you are already healing. Already fighting. Already resilient.
By fearing to reach out, you are depriving yourself of the people who more often than not, would love to be there for you. Sometimes, these people are not in your vicinity, and it might seem as if they don’t exist – but they’re out there. With the power of the internet, you have at your fingertips unprecedented access to those people. Find them. I promise they are out there.
3. It can help you identify issues you struggle with more clearly
Similar to gaining outside perspectives, seeking guidance can help you discover other aspects of your struggle. In speaking with someone from a different environment (particularly somebody who is removed from both your personal and professional life), you might encounter unbiased and arguably clearer insights into your situation. Sometimes, looking at issues in conjunction with somebody who isn’t as familiar with your personal and professional life could help you take a step back. Distance is sometimes needed in order to assess a tangled web of issues that for those close to you might be difficult to sift through.
That doesn’t mean seeking guidance from friends and family is less than helpful of course, and often they are equally positioned to provide you with clarity on your situation. Often we cannot recognise our own behaviour and responses to situations/things that happen in our lives, whilst those around us do. Take advantage of their point of view and use it to gain insights into how you react to things – and make sure to embrace both the good and bad.
4. Learn new ways of dealing with difficulties
The experiences we’ve had shapes our ways of dealing with issues. Some people can recognise their own methods of coping, reflecting productively on whether or not those methods are effective and non-toxic. Others have a hard time recognising the ways they cope with issues, or perhaps have deeply ingrained and toxic ways of handling difficulties. In interacting with somebody who have found positive and productive methods of coping, we can learn a lot about how we can adopt new ways of navigating difficulties ourselves. Cross-culturally but within families, we find a whole range of different ways that humans talk about and deal with turbulent times – finding different perspectives and learning from each other’s experiences of navigating life is invaluable. As unique as we are, and with such a wealth of difference between our lived experiences, we have a lot to learn from each other.
5. It can provide you with a new sense of direction
Walking away from a session of divulging your innermost feelings leaves most people vulnerable and raw. Naturally, we want to protect ourselves from further harm. Walking away with the knowledge that somebody now knows these intimate things about us can feel like too much exposure. However, putting your cards on the table for somebody to see is also an act of change. A tangible, irrefutable act of strength and openness that very few have the guts to do.
In place of vulnerability, embrace the feeling that there is no turning back – you have made your pain visible to somebody else. The next steps might be uncertain, and you might tread with a sense of caution. No matter what the reaction will be to your act of sharing, you can feel safe in the knowledge that it has taken immense strength to make yourself vulnerable and that most people will see it for what it is – an act of courage and a call for connection. A choice entirely dictated by you, fuelled by the love, respect and responsibility you have for yourself. By making yourself vulnerable, you have already actively taken steps towards a different direction. You have shaken the roots of your tree, let the old and withered leaves fall off and made space for new leaves to grow. There, on the ground, amongst the withered leaves of your troubles, remember to take notice that your tree is still standing. Perhaps a little more bare, but stronger than ever.
Best wishes and good luck friend,