Trauma Talk: How conversation starters end conversations

Stock photo, St. George News

OPINION — We’re coming into the days of family, gratitude, gifting and celebration. As we meet up with family and friends, chances are most of our conversations start and end something like this:

“How are you?”

“Fine.”

We aren’t surprised when the respondent doesn’t give any information about their feelings, their relationships, their finances or their irritable bowel syndrome.

There is little chance the inquirer will come back to the “fine” answer countering: “That’s interesting because the jungle drums are wild about your IBS, your recent domestic violence incident, the fact that your kid is selling drugs at school and you’ve stopped going to church” – even if any of these things are true.

You see, we don’t do things that way. It’s not “Pax Americana.”

I hear and sometimes espouse the belief that we have become a “me” society. We can see this in jargon of our day: “What about me?” “That doesn’t work for me.” “What’s in it for me?” Or, “I’m just not ready for that.”

What lies beneath these “me” answers, spoken or not, explains why our conversations start and end with little meaning. At its best, me-centricity is at odds with the spontaneous, some say catastrophic, nature of life. When do “me” answers have any affect on an earthquake, a bankruptcy, a car wreck, a mugging, a broken heart, job loss, bullying or loss of self-confidence someone else may be experiencing? Like, never!

Most likely we have so much on our own plates – stuff that is putting the “fun” back into our own dysfunction –  that we don’t think we have enough space to offer much empathy for others’ crises.

We aren’t skilled enough at gratitude to evoke or even allow another’s miseries to be expressed. If we would, we might see in comparison that we are blessed and have reason to be grateful.

“My issues are bad, but not that bad.”

We know it is good form to express interest, so we ask the easy question “How are you?” But since we really don’t want to take on more doom and gloom than we already own, we don’t usually press the cliché reply for more disclosure even if we know that“fine” is not true.

Perhaps we tell others we are “fine” because we have shame, blame and regret we don’t want to talk about. Maybe we don’t want to add our doom and gloom to someone else’s plate either.

How about we try something different this year? Let’s go beyond our fine lines and find something more meaningful with the people we encounter.

Let’s make “family” about disclosing our fears, doubts and concerns to each other. We might just seek some comfort from kin.

Let’s make “gratitude” about identifying what’s amiss in our lives and talking about it with each other, looking for solutions. Our family and friends cannot support what they don’t know.

Let’s make “gifting” about giving of ourselves in such a way that we  press beyond the “fine” replies and welcome some not so fine or simple revelations.

Let’s make “celebration” about what we are finding out about ourselves and each other, specifically beliefs that may limit us, how we are learning to feel more and be burdened less.

Bruce C. Solomon is a licensed therapist working with people, and their families, who have suffered trauma, any sort of trauma that leaves behind a trail that impacts the person’s life. Opinions stated in this column are his and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • CaliGirl November 20, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    I love reading Bruce’s articles. He’s very insightful and wise. Hey Bruce, do you counsel vets family members on how to deal with the PTSD brought home from overseas? Or just the vet themselves?

    • starboss November 21, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      I do, Caligari, in my experience working with as many of the family as will attend the sessions is the best way to treat PTSD. It snags secondary PTSD before it can take root in the family. Individual Sessions can also be done with the Vet to handle acute traumatic experiences.

  • Bob November 20, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    I read it all. It’s not clear and It doesn’t flow well and almost seems like rambling, IMO

  • .... November 20, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    I only text or send email. I’m just to busy not having to work for a living

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