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This is one of a series
of brief articles on how to respond effectively
to annoying social behavior. An "effective response"
occurs when you get your
primary needs met
well enough, and both people feel
This article offers useful responses
to someone you experience as
you're familiar with...
If there's an
overwhelmed or burned-out person in your life, keep them
in mind as you read.
Around 1400, the English word "whelm" meant to
completely cover something with water or an
overturned dish. Now overwhelm means
being "completely taken over" by something, like
emotional intensity or environmental events.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed or overloaded? If so, how would you describe
that state to someone who hasn't felt it?Common symptoms include...
and emotionally exhausted, depleted, numb,
weak, hopeless, paralyzed, and spent;
can't bear / endure / do (something) one
more time;" and/or...
out," and "unable to think," concentrate,
make decisions, and/or to do routine
If you're not
overwhelmed, what are you?
Can you think of an appropriate word besides normal? What would you say causes
acceptable options in a critical situation
working too hard
without rest, and seeing no end to this
to do what must be done
having too many
people depending on you for too much,
overpowered by environmental forces or
of these can be amplified by physical
exhaustion, disability, weakness, illness, and/or pain.
The point -
encounter an overwhelmed adult or child, be aware
of factors like these to guide your behavior
greatest support you can offer an overwhelmed
adult or child is empathy. People raised
by unempathic parents often have trouble
feeling what other people feel. How empathic are
you? This brief YouTube video can help you
answer that question:
sense that an adult or child is
asking them for a response may be more than
they can manage for now.
feelings with and about the person. They
point to what you need - e.g. to vent, to
learn, to empathize, to encourage, or
Unless it's an
enabling. Both are disrespectful, and can block personal
language. Using loaded words like catastrophe,
weakling, baby, childish, doom, impossible, and hopeless, can
amplify the overwhelm;
Get clear on
need, and guesstimate what the
overwhelmed person needs e.g.
validation and empathy, realistic
encouragement, a chance to vent, patience,
companionship, solitude, and gentle help to
identify their feelings and prioritize their
clear. In non-emergencies, taking
responsibility for reducing an able adult's problem
may raise your stress and block their
Then consider options like these, as
concerned about you. can you tell me how (or
what) you're feeling) now?" If you get
something like "Not really," respect that!
If the person is able to describe
feeling (overwhelmed), use good eye contact
empathic listening to affirm what s/he says. That could sound
"So you're feeling like things are just too
much for you now."
"I'd like to know more about that."
If the person goes into more detail,
continue to use respectful empathic
listening. Use questions sparingly - just
affirm what s/he says, and wait.
worrying about / feeling responsible for /
struggling with / trying to /
and _______________. That feels
like a LOT!"
"(Name), can you say what you need
(from me) right now?" Be prepared
for "No," "Nothing," and "I don't know."
That may be true, or it may be the person
isn't able to identify what they need
currently, and/or they may be uncomfortable
asking for help.
"I wonder what would help you feel
better." This is a statement
that invites the other person to muse, but
doesn't require an answer.
"If you could make progress on just
one thing now, what would it be?" Option - be alert for the chance to
''dig-down'' to identify the person's current primary
"(Name), please count on me if you
ever need to talk / vent /
let off steam / brainstorm
/ get suggestions." This
leaves the choice to the other person, and
doesn't force help on them.
"What would you say your main
priorities are right now?" This
may lead to sorting things out - or not.
Avoid telling the person what their
priorities ought to be!
Implication - if you or someone
else feels significantly overwhelmed,
suspect that's a symptom of the real problem
- inherited psychological wounds and false-self dominance.
interested to see how you resolve your
This expresses your support, your boundary
("this is your dilemma, not mine"),
and your confidence that the person can find
their own solution. This contrasts with
suggesting solutions - "fixing" or rescuing
Try saying these samples out loud for full
effect. How do they compare with how you would usually interact with an overwhelmed person? If
you were overwhelmed, how would you feel
if someone said them to you?
theme of these sample responses. They're brief, non-directive, focused on the
other person, and express respectful concern for
him or her. Contrast them with these...
Responses to Avoid
people risk adding stress to the
overwhelmed person by saying things like...
"C'mon, (Name) - get a grip!" (instructing,
"Cheer up, it could be worse!"
"Hey, other people have it much worse."(discounting, guilt-tripping)
all have problems."(generalizing instead of empathizing)
"What you need to do is _____________." (advising instead of empathizing)
"When the going gets tough, the tough get
going!" (trite moralizing, preaching)
"A good night's sleep will make a new person
out of you." (maybe - or maybe
"Maybe you ought to get professional help."(implies "You can't take care of
"If you'd followed my advice, you wouldn't
feel like this!"(blaming /
"When I was in your shoes, what I did
was _______"(focusing on
Responses like these usually indicate that the
is ruled by a
false self, and is unaware of that and the
other person's needs; and they may...
need to lower
their own discomfort by discounting
the problem, changing the focus, or "making"
the overwhelmed person "feel better." It
also probably means...
isn't aware of Lesson-2
basics and the
response options above.
This is one of a series of articles suggesting
effective responses to common social behaviors. This article offers
(a) perspective on feeling overwhelmed, and
(b) specific options for
responding effectively to an overwhelmed person, and
(c) sample responses to avoid.