Question: I don’t know how to react to others when they share good things happening in their life.
Answer: It is important to understand that when people share joyful or painful things with you, they would like to know that you care and they have not made a mistake in sharing something personal with you.
When people share good things with you, it is a privilege and it may mean that they feel you are close to them and you will share their joy. If you respond to this with interest, your bond will get stronger. However if you respond in such a manner that they feel you are not interested (e.g. you don’t look at them or turn away, or show irritation in your expression or say something suggesting it is a bad news) then they would feel you are not interested in their feelings and may start avoiding you in future. So you have to communicate actively that you are interested in the news and also happy for them (e.g. smile, ask to know more, acknowledge their contribution to the good happening, plan for some celebration, share it with others etc). In this manner you can show using verbal and non-verbal behaviours that you are happy for their joy. Your asking them to talk about it, and plan for its celebration is a way to extend this joy for longer period of time (called capitalisation by some psychologists).
Question: What if they are sharing something unpleasant?
Answer: Even when someone is sharing something unpleasant, we have a choice either to say something negative, ignore it or actively support them. When we give critical or judgemental comments, the other person may feel we do not understand them, neither do we care for them. On the other hand when we allow them to talk, and communicate that we can see their pain and struggle, they feel less alone and more cared for. Sometimes only this much is enough and other people are resourceful and are able to find solutions on their own. We can also suggest that they can let us know if they want any help from us. Sometimes our best support is in helping them generate solutions to the problem. But all the while it is important to remember that there has to be an attitude of respect for the person. They might not be doing very well now, but it is a temporary phase and they will come out of it.
Question: I feel embarrassed to share my own thoughts & feelings with others?
Answer: Remember that when other’s choose to share their feelings with you, you feel honoured. Similarly sharing your thoughts and feelings with others may make them feel that you trust them and respect them. However you have to choose them wisely and develop trustworthy relationships with them. Sharing things might allow tension to decrease, help you sort your feelings and give you perspective, so you might remind yourself of these benefits for sharing. You may also share while others are sharing their own thoughts, so it becomes reciprocal. You may even mention that you don’t find it very easy to talk about personal feelings, which may make the other person understanding towards your efforts.
Expert:Dr Jyotsna Agrawal
Dr Jyotsna is assistant professor of Positive Psychology at the Dept. of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS, Bangalore