There are right and wrong things to say to people, but sometimes people say the wrong thing at a rough time in a person’s life and it hurts. Choosing the right words is important, especially when someone is going through mental illness. When someone is struggling and going through this difficult sickness, saying the wrong thing can cause trauma and anguish. It can add fuel to burning emotions.
Never tell a person with mental illness who is going through an emotional episode to “get a grip.” Emotions can run wild and become totally out of control. A person can lose grip of his or her emotions and scream and cry. The person struggling with these emotions can’t just shut them off. So when someone tells them to “get a grip,” it hurts. It makes the person feel angry, misunderstood, and alone. It makes those emotions flare even more.
Recently my friend, Cheryl, who is struggling with depression and anxiety, told me about a situation she was in. She got very upset and her emotions flared. She cried and screamed until she became horse and a loved one told her to “get a grip.”
Cheryl messaged me. “When he said ‘get a grip’ it made me more upset. I felt like it was assumed that I could just flip a switch and suddenly be in control of my emotions in a snap. I couldn’t. My emotions were too out of control at the time. I couldn’t just turn those emotions off like a light switch.”
I’ve been in my friend’s shoes. When I was with my ex-boyfriend, it didn’t take much to send me in an emotional episode. I would go from sad to out-of-control. I would throw things, scream, and cry. He didn’t know how to handle my rapid emotions. He just stood over me while I was in a crumpled up mess screaming and crying, telling me, “Get a grip.”
The burning in me flared up more. I yelled at him. My anger burned even deeper. How could he tell me to get a grip? He had no right. Didn’t he know what was going on inside me? Didn’t he know I had no control? Was I in this alone? I couldn’t just stop.
I cried even harder and yelled out awful things to him. He in turned tried to control me by holding me down and telling me he wouldn’t let me go until I got a grip. I’m afraid of being held down, so things got even worse. I begged and pleaded with him to let me go, but he held me even harder. When he finally let go, I had bruises on my wrists.
All I needed from him was for him to hold me in his arms and whisper encouraging words until the tears stopped. I wanted him to just be there for me, but he couldn’t. He didn’t know how. He was the type of man who had to be in control. When he couldn’t control my emotions, he abused me instead.
To me the words “get a grip” are an insult. It made me feel like what I was going through was just a childish fit that I could just stop when I wanted to. It’s like what I was feeling didn’t matter.
I wanted to scream, “I can’t get a grip. I can’t just stop my emotions. If I could, I’d do it. Don’t you understand I have no control?”
My friend Cheryl posted on Facebook, “Please, if you know someone with anxiety and depression (and maybe also other mental health issues), when they are having an episode, PLEASE don’t tell them to get a grip! That does not help at all. In fact, it can make things even worse! It just fans the flames. Instead, if they allow you to do so, just hold them and be there for them. Find a more calming way to calm them down. That is what they need most. They need calm so it is easier for them to calm down.”
She is right. If you want to help someone going through an emotional episode, choose what you say and do carefully. You can either make things worse or better. If you say positive things, rub his or her back, and hold him or her if he or she lets you, you can help calm the person down. Try different things like deep breathing to help him or her, but never say, “Get a grip.” The person just needs you to be there for him or her in any way you can, even if it means just sitting with the person. Choose your words wisely. Be compassionate, kind, encouraging, and soothing. Don’t let your own frustration guide you in your actions. If you are angry yourself, calm yourself down before you try to help the person struggling.
I have found a man who holds me when I break down. He knows how to cradle me in his arms and rub my back until the tears stop. He seems to know all the right things to say. He can calm me down when no one else can. Because he knows all the right things to say and do, he holds me up in the light.