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Anguish Overwhelms Take These 4 Steps Before Other Action
It just happened.
You discover an
infidelity; a partner signals an intention to separate; someone has passed away;
there’s been some kind of personal tragedy.
In the midst of
anguish life feels totally out of control; is turned upside down; is
overwhelming. Anguish, in the midst of a horrible unplanned life event is
Feelings can range
from deep sadness to loss to anger to grief. Depending on the incident there can
also be a sense of shame or embarrassment. Regardless, these awful feelings are
often accompanied by a sense of isolation and confusion as well as a sense of
urgency to quickly address the source of trouble.
Your experience of
anguish may spill onto a loved one, a friend, perhaps even a total stranger.
What do you do and
what do those around you do?
The challenge in the
moment is to recognize as stated above, that anguish in the midst of a horrible
unplanned life event is normal. As bad as it feels though, it won’t last
forever. With the passage of time, with or without help, that terrible
all-engulfing sense of anguish subsides.
The real challenge in
the moment is to allow oneself to feel the pain and for those who seek to
provide support, to allow the feeling of pain. In fact, that is all anyone
typically has to do in the moment: Feel or bear witness to the feeling.
In feeling we
discharge the pain; we acknowledge the hurt; we externalize the upset.
Unless someone is at
risk of immediate harm, there is nothing else to do. This is not the time to
blame; seek solutions; determine accountability; seek recourse.
As friends or loved
ones, we do not propose solutions; we also do not seek to determine blame. Any
planning is restricted only to the moment and is only directed towards
determining and facilitating immediate safety: Is the person in anguish safe –
either with themselves or in the context of their situation. The only planning
is to provide for immediate safety. In safety, the anguish can be expressed.
Whatever does need to
happen the result of the triggering event, it is most often best if that action
waits until the anguish has subsided. Despite the intensity of the anguish, the
response must be appropriate and not determined as only an outcome of the degree
of anguish. The response must be measured and not inadvertently magnified lest
the response create further hardship.
We wait for anguish to
subside for clearer thinking to return whereby reasonable decisions can be made.
As those who would provide support (friends, family, clergy, third party
interveners) we withhold action, we contain, we provide safety. We wait until
such time as the one affected can think past the pain to make plans or
prepare a response reasonable to the circumstance and one that will not
necessarily inflame matters. We gain our composure to come back meaningfully and
hopefully those around us facilitate that process and don’t agitate solely for
retribution, blame or compensation.
As awful as the
anguish is, a response developed ahead of gaining one’s composure can lead to
a perpetuation and even escalation of issues.
So, what do you do? In
Once you have found
your breath then process what has happened and determine next steps.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
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