This is a guest post from Jackie Knapp. We were privileged to have Jackie work at our church as the Associate Campus Ministry Director for three years. Before that she was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. Be sure to check out her new blog.
As we talked about yesterday, there are deeper things going on beyond just drama. Here are five practical ways to help a girl in the midst of an emotional breakdown:
Help her take care of her body
As I was recently talking to a girl in the midst of full-blown hysteria, she mentioned that she hadn’t slept, eaten or been outside of her apartment in two days. Red flag! Before attempting any sort of meaningful conversation, I made her leave her place and get something to eat. She was much more rational after eating and getting outside. For most girls, the three big physical factors are food, sleep, and hormones. All three can drastically affect the ability to reason well, or at all. We had a rule in the dorm that no one could make life-changing decisions during certain weeks of the month and I’d like to think this helped prevent many impulsive mistakes. So, don’t skip these steps – it’s amazing how some fresh air, a nap and a sandwich can make the world look a whole lot better.
Help her feel safe
The setting and timing of conversations is important, especially because many times there is a lot of fear behind the outburst. If we are in a group, I usually try to take her away from the group, and ask if she is ready to talk. If not, I wait and try to find a good time to follow-up. If you want her to feel safe, she must trust you, especially if she is a fearful person. She will not be completely honest if she does not trust you. Push a little beyond where she would naturally go, but do not force her disclosure, especially if you are man in an authority position. Be calm and clear but not condescending. The more logical, less emotional you are, the more patience it will take to try to understand. Be gentle and persistent and try to find out what is happening underneath the exterior. This may take more time than you would like, but if you earn a place of trust in her life, God can use you mightily to speak truth when she needs it most.
Help her see her self-absorption and sort through what is true
Seeing the world and the situation for what it actually is will not be her strong point. This is one area you can help immensely by gently but honestly, beginning to point out how she is focused on herself. (If she is a Christian, she will want to hear this, even if initially she is angry or hurt. If she is not responding at all to this honesty, it is a starting place to show her her need for a Savior.) She will most likely have swung to one extreme of blaming everyone else and not taking responsibility or the other of blaming herself entirely for what is not her fault, something common in abuse victims. You can help by asking questions, and helping her see what is true, and what is her responsibility. She will probably also need help learning to pray through these situations and asking God for wisdom to see clearly.
Help her learn to laugh at herself
Thoughtful humor is helpful, and every dramatic girl becomes a much more pleasant person once she learns to laugh at herself and her violent explosions of crying, screaming, and over-reacting. If you can gently help her see that she is being ridiculous, you can get a long way. Again, timing is very important, and obviously, this will back-fire if she feels like you are making fun of her, but using humor can lighten up the situation a bit and help her see some perspective. Effective strategies include, but are not limited to: sharing some of your more embarrassing outbursts or stories, well-timed jokes, and an occasional Mean Girls reference. Because laughing is always better than crying, right?
Help her learn to have honest conversations
With most young girls I have worked with, honest conversations with their friends, parents and boyfriends are not commonplace. It definitely was not my strong point growing up either, and I think of the heartache and trauma that could have been avoided if I would have engaged in real conversations in the midst of conflict, misunderstanding, and difficult situations. Many dramatic situations can be helped immensely if both sides are willing to have honest conversations shortly after the conflict. This may be a new concept for her, and something she has no idea how to begin. You can help by practicing the conversation, showing how God calls us to speak the truth in love and following up after she has hard conversations.
In all of this, in the midst of frustrations or discouragement, remember you have a great opportunity to love and help this ball of emotion, tears, and frenzy become a mature and stable woman. Hopefully she will look back on this time and thank you for talking her off the cliff, listening to her rant, and showing her the Savior. An added bonus: she owes you big time if you are ever falling apart.