# 71 REACTIONS: May the force be with you.

Reactions:  Forces of nature define our environment and prescribe our actions. Newton’s third law of motion explains that ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ His explanation of factors like gravitational, electrical, and magnetic force – enables navigation and movement through our physical world. Applying this reference to emotional forces might do the same, through our intangible worlds of relationships.

Newton observed that natural (physical) forces always come in equal and opposite action-reaction pairs.
A modified equation seems to work in emotional movements: For every action there is an equal (not always opposite) reaction.

We can learn to use the predictability of ‘force’ reactive-pairs to help us move in desired directions – or – we can forget/ignore principles of action-reaction, and be moved in ways we may not desire.

Communication sets emotional forces into action.

We have likened conversation to an emotional symphony. Here’s an example:

Students said ‘hello’ – each in a way that communicated the emotions written on task cards. Then we debriefed – applauding actors who had clearly expressed a formal greeting, and emotions of surprise; boredom; shock; romantic interest; casual friendship, sarcasm; warm welcome; anger; fear; and curiosity.

They spoke same single word – with ten different meanings, and no one had difficulty with interpretation. As we debriefed, they described personal reactions and imaginary responses to these greetings – as if they had been real.

I bet you could imagine your response to those emotional greetings as well.


So, a loved one or friend has confided in you about their struggles with depression. How do you react and respond?

We have already reviewed the importance of listening with your heart … the question is what now?

Here is what I have learned:

First, respect and acknowledge the confidence you have been given. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Imagine what you might be feeling or fearing if you had just shared this confidence. Remember the emotional force of their message.

A simple reassurance that you heard, that you respect their feelings as real (without denial, minimizing, or judgment), and that you care and want to understand… is good.   In fact it’s golden.  You might say something like … “I appreciate your trust. I don’t know how to help – but I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m here for you.”

Your honesty, with an invitation for them to tell you how they feel, and/or to let you know of specific needs they may have – can be very helpful. It will calm the fears of rejection or judgment they may be feeling – and it may give you direction for the next steps.

If you have not experienced depression yourself, or don’t fully understand it – don’t try to offer reassurance with fast or easy encouragement or suggestions.

You need to understand as much as possible of what they’re going through. Reality may seem to be very different to them – than to you.

Learn all that you can about the illness, their personal symptoms and potential treatments before trying to intervene.

Hopefully, if you have been reading this book, you do understand a bit about depression already. There are many other great programs available that can increase your knowledge. A quick check with your local, county or state Mental Health offices may yield a variety services.

You can also find information about service providers and treatment options through the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA). Find them on-line at (www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov).

From personal experience, I can highly recommend the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI.org) as a trusted, user-friendly, and rich resource of information and support for both the person facing difficulty – and for those who care for them. Print materials, blogs, interactive web sites, face-to-face and telephone support, as well as free classes, are all available to help.

The NAMI Peer-to-Peer educational program offers sessions for adults seeking to understand their condition, and to find support in company with others on the journey to recovery.

The NAMI Family-to-Family education program brings caregivers, spouses and friends together for mutual education and support among folks who share the same experiences and concerns that you may have about friends and loved ones.

You are not alone.

There are lists of potential symptoms of depression and anxiety. No one exhibits all of them – all at once, but they can show up in surprising ways. Learn as much as you can about your friend’s experience.

If your loved one stops wanting to hang out with you as much, or starts avoiding activities you used to enjoy together – it may be symptomatic. If your friend seems easily irritated now, by things that were never an issue before – it may be symptomatic. If they start missing dates, procrastinating, or messing up on things they used to do well, or fail to meet your expectations, it may not be intentional… It may be symptomatic.

An easily memorized acronym for Rule Number 1 about symptoms is Q-TIP

Quit Taking It Personally!

For example:  If they have ‘distanced’ themselves lately …Q-TIP and consider symptom-based explanations…

  • Isolation might be more comfortable and easier than trying to express or explain thoughts or feelings that may not be clear, or make total sense – even to themselves. Words can be hard to find.
  • They may withdraw from people they love as a way to protect them from potential pain, caused by symptoms of depression or anxiety that they can’t control.

In either of these examples the finest response is to just continue loving them – and to stay close even when it feels as though you are being pushed away.

Depressing emotion and anxiety can be contagious – yes, even for people of faith. As you attempt to support your friend or loved one – make it a priority to take care of yourself too.

Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, take comfort in your faith, and stay close to God.

For believers, prayer and daily study/devotions are critically important to your mental health.

As you seek to help others – let loved ones help you. Allow them to support you. They can listen (you can share your concerns without betraying secrets) and they can pray for you.

Do’s and DON’T’s … for your friend or relative:

Clinical depression is a real medical condition. Knowing that may give you a few answers for some unexplained behaviors. There are ways you can help. Here are a few examples:

  • DO research treatment options. You can inform and encourage them to consider the ones that seem to fit, and you can help locate local sources of treatment.
  • DO encourage them to consider medication if it’s prescribed. Research shows that modern medication can successfully treat 80% of those suffering from depressive disorders.

Using medication is not a sign of weakness, or a violation of your faith. Medication does not seek to change you – it just levels the playing field by helping to restore balance. (For more details, see Post # 18). Prayer and therapy are also important and powerful. They can choose to use all available help – it’s not an either/or proposition.

  • DO Stay in the present – don’t allow yourself to bog down with past regrets or future worries. Scripture offers great advice about this:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about  its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” Matthew 6:34 (NKJV)

  • DO Learn, find, and keep, a good perspective. We can’t survive very well in a constant crisis mode. There are differences between having a bad day and a being in real crisis. We can allow ourselves to relax between crisis events. Do so as much, and as often, as possible.
  • DON’T let life revolve around depression or anxiety. DO Show affection and encourage the sufferer to participate with you in normal activities – do chores, go for a walk, sit outside, go to a movie, bake a cake – or EAT a cake.

Great ambition is not required – little things mean a lot, and can yield BIG rewards.

  • DON’T push too hard – let them ease into routine activities rather than trying to force involvement.
  • DO express Empathy and Validation. This doesn’t mean joining a constant pity party – or granting perpetual ‘Get Out Of Jail FREE’ status. It does mean frequent reminders that you’re aware, and that you care about their feelings – even as they go through normal routines and meet responsibilities of their day. You might say: “I’m sorry you feel so low. I know it was hard for you to get dressed and go to class (or work) – but you did it. I appreciate you.”
  • DO Help them remember and to see that they are needed and wanted (again, without guilt or judgment).

Here are two important truths:

  • You can’t ‘fix’ people.
  • Support is not control.

We can only control ourselves. Others have to decide on their own goals and strategies. We can support them – but we can’t make their decisions for them. We can help them understand their options – and encourage them to stick with the commitments to action in their chosen recovery plans.

We can learn to walk with a person who is in pain. We can acknowledge, support, and give them requested assistance. (Do wait to be asked before jumping in to assist).   We can, sometimes, distract them. We can, lovingly, listen to them. We can validate their efforts and difficulties. We can simply be together and befriend them.

When we do these things, it becomes clear that they are not alone. Neither are we. We need each other, and wherever we are – God is with us.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-13 (NIV) offers a beautiful reminder of how good this can be:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor:

 If either of them falls down one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls 
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

 You, your friend or loved one, and God – together you are a cord of three – and you can be ‘not quickly broken’.

Next time we’ll consider how we might open communication when our friend or loved one does not talk about their difficulties. Stay with me – and thank you for sharing the adventure.

Blessings, Love and Laughter to you.




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