Pressure is an isolating feeling. People under pressure see themselves as if they were under attach and their top priority is to survive, if only emotionally. So they focus on their own feelings, regard most interactions with suspicion and withdraw into a “safe space” as much as they can.
The problem with pressure is that it also damages our ability to reason and function severely. It interferes with remembering things, with being creating and with our perception of what goes on around us. We see the world through narrow slits in a thick armor, we see everything tinted bright red, we hear everything pitchy and sharp and very little makes sense.
Intense pressure can even make us feel like there is no hope and nobody to help us. It is as if we are invisible.
A long time ago, I saw a movie, I think it was Ordinary People, where a mother walked over to her teenage son, touched him gently and said, “I see you”. That line stuck with me and I have used the idea in it many times with the people I love.
In another movie, Dune, people fight with invisible shields, which are very effective at blocking quick, strong sword movements. When fighting a person using this type of shield, the only way to defeat them is with a slow moving movement, like sticking a knife in while distracting their attention.
I think the “I see you” method works well because the other person is using an invisible shield that is very effective at blocking direct methods, like advice, jokes and uninvited help. It works especially well with teenagers, who see many things as threats to their identity and independence.
When we see someone we care about under pressure, we often try to help by finding out about their problem and then offering a solution. Other times, there may be a conflict between what we need and what the other person needs, which makes us focus on getting what we need. Both of these methods generally fail when there is enough stress involved.
You see, albeit irrational, most people translate having a problem to “I’m not good enough”. If you try to help them, it just means they were not good enough to solve their own problem. If you focus on yourself, that is yet another thing they have to deal with.
A better approach is to validate the person, to make them feel good about themselves despite what they might be dealing with and to reassure them that they are not alone.
When Ronit and I go to bed at night, no matter what happened during that day, no matter what I still have to do the following day (and maybe even later), no matter if we talk about our challenges and find solutions or not, I still get to cuddle with her and all my worries dissolve. My body just lets go of the pressure and I surrender to the softness and warmth of her embrace.
Unfortunately for our kids, they have nobody to cuddle with in bed. Unfortunately for all of us, our daily pressures build up so quickly sometimes that going 16 hours until we can feel accepted and validated again seems like a very long time.
So in-between, we can send little signs of affirmation to one another, particularly when we can see someone who is under pressure. We can let them know that we see them, that we are there for them and that we care about them even when they are hard on themselves.
Here are some ways to say, “I see you”:
- Catch their eye and smile
- Blow them a kiss
- Walk over to them and put your hand on their shoulder for a while. According to Reiki, this is a way to give them positive energy, which their body will use as it needs. This is a gentle way of distracting them from their mental down-spiral and giving them something warm to focus on
- Give them a hug and hold on until you feel them relax (typically, they will take a deep breath just before). If the person is sitting down, try something else first, but if they are standing, a hug should be great. Offer the hug without words, if you can. Stretching your arms out should be obvious enough. If you need to say something, rather than saying, “Give me a hug”, say, “How about a hug?” and wait for approval.
- If you know they like it, stroke their hair, massage their shoulders or hold their face in your hands. As you do, try to turn their gaze upwards. Our brain is wired so that negative thoughts are only possible when we look down and looking up is all about the future
- Pressure is a lot easier to handle when you have had enough sleep, enough water and enough food. Cater to their physical needs
- Give them space by keeping things quiet and by taking care of things that might add to their burden, like making dinner or washing the dishes. When Ronit is particularly busy, she really appreciates the person who takes care of dinner, because it is one less thing she needs to worry about
- Give them a little note saying, “I love you”, “I’m here for you” or even “Bad day?” You can also put a flower down beside them as a symbolic note
- Tell them, “I see you”, and explain what it means when you do it the first time. This can become part of your “secret code” with your children and your partner
Whatever you do, approach slowly and gently and focus on making the other person feel good overall.
If you can relate to any of this, you can also share it with the people who love you and let them know they can help you in times of stress in the same ways. Although they want to support you, they may not know how and this will make everybody feel better at the same time.
Handling pressure is a modern-day necessity. By learning how to relieve other people’s pressure, including your kids, you will also model kind and powerful behavior to them and equip them with the skills to be happy in life.