The nation reeled in shock at the news recently that a soldier had killed his comrades who were undergoing treatment for mental distress.
Although there are frequent violent incidents here at home, there was something so much more traumatic that it happened in Iraq and that the killer was an American soldier.
It brought back a memory of a time when I was a volunteer on a crisis line.
A person, usually a man, would call and say, “This is my third call until I could get a woman to talk to me. All the other people who answered were men. I just hung up.”
I believe this man could have been caught earlier and helped if they had more women counselors and psychiatrists. Men have such shame in admitting their fears and problems to other men. They don’t want to appear weak to their peers. It makes them appear, especially a tough soldier, unmanly. Humiliated.
They need a stand in for Mother love. Someone who would say it is okay to be scared and lonely and at a breaking point. Mothers do that on an instinctive level. They listen more. They judge less.
Women feel safer to men.
That is not to say there are not good men out there who care. But I noticed, having raised four boys, that they would tell me things they would never dream of sharing with their father.
Most of our troops are still tender children.
I learned a few years ago when I was in training as a crisis line volunteer that people really don’t want advice. Even, sometimes, when they ask for it. They want someone to listen.
We especially find it hard when the answer is so apparent and simple that we cannot understand why we can’t give it.
The psychologist who did extensive training at the crisis line told us -
“If we thought that giving advice would help anyone, we would be the first to tell you to do it. You must start with the premise that no one wants advice.”
The second piece of instruction she offered is to never ask a “Why?” question.
The only answer to a why question is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Most people who confide in you just need to be kept afloat. To be heard. To be offered a kind ear. No one changes a life situation until they are ready. And, when they are ready, they do it.
This applies to us too. We can mull over a problem for a long time and then suddenly – we get it. It is like a “click.” Then we move so fast to solve it that it is like a volcano erupting. When we are done, we are so done! Gone. That person who has been tormenting us or that situation that seems so desperate is history. And we don’t have second thoughts or even look back.
There were a few exceptions of intervention on the crisis line. We were to take action immediately if a child was in danger. We had a special signal to alert our supervisor in this case and we were to keep the person on the telephone long enough for the police to trace the call and to send help. We were to try to find out where the child was in the meantime.
The other instance was a suicide call. What was interesting is that people did not call and say directly, “I am going to commit suicide.” Most of them alluded vaguely that life is too hard, or they have nothing to live for. They talked around the subject.
On the crisis line, the psychologist said we were to confront the person who was calling directly and loudly with the statement, “I DON’T WANT YOU TO KILL YOURSELF!”
We are all afraid to say that dreadful word “suicide” to anyone because we feel maybe they are not saying that – perhaps we have misunderstood – maybe we are giving them an idea they don’t have. She said, NO. They already have the idea. Whether we are on a crisis line or in your personal life, you have to confront it directly.
Sometimes this confrontation is shock enough to stop someone. There is something about the statement that is sobering to say the least. They will back off.
But, most of the calls on the crisis line were from people who were unhappy. Most of our friends who confide in us are just unhappy too.
They trained us in what they called active listening. To repeat back to the person what they have just said to us in our own words. For example, “What I am hearing you say is that you are unhappy with –” And then, just listen.
The training I got from that crisis line has been invaluable in many areas of life. It has made me a better life coach, friend and mother.
We all usually have our own answers within us. The psychologist is right. They and we – may ask for advice but we don’t want it.
By letting people talk to us, by finding someone who will hear us out, we are helped and help others to find our way. Our own way.
A friend sent me his version of the famous Serenity Prayer.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can and the wisdom to know it’s me.”
I’d like to suggest that the Armed Services put more women on the job to assist with traumatic stress disorder. Not only overseas but when our young men and women come home. We are natural nurturers.
We need more trained and professional “Mommies” on the job.