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Friday, July 26, 2013

Being The Shoulder To Cry On- DoctorKaren Kanto Reporting…

Image by Justice Brentley


Every avatar in SL (except the bots) has a RL person behind it, and that real person is going to have real feelings. From time to time, those feelings may be distressed, and the person, through their avatar, may seek the help and support of others within SL.
That "other" may be you. In this article, I will attempt to suggest some guidelines that might help you with some of the common issues that arise including:

    Does that avatar really need to bring this drama to SL?

    Can I really help someone?


    Do I have to help someone if I don't really want to?

    If I started to help, can I stop? How do I stop?
    How do I know if I am in over my head?
    What do I do if I think I am in over my head?

Ok, let's begin.




    Does that avatar really need to bring this drama to SL?

Image by Justice Brentley
While no one NEEDS to bring drama to SL, it is a sure bet that it will happen. Whether the person behind the avatar is prone to being overly dramatic, overly emotional and getting overwrought with activities in SL, or they are generally calm, secure and stable, the feelings they are having are real to them. Their desire for support is real. It's not your job to repudiate them. It's not your job to take care of them. What you do or don't do for them is a decision you have to make, and remake at each moment.

    Can I really help someone?
Of course you can. Simply being present with someone who is in distress is a help. Helping them, however, usually does NOT mean fixing their problems, fighting their fights or righting wrongs they perceive done to them. You may not even agree with how they are seeing things, yet you can still help by being there. At a women's conference, the keynoter looked out over the audience of women and said, "Men. Don't you wish sometimes you could tell them, 'Don't just do something! Stand there!'" All of us in the room laughed because we had all known men, and some women, who thought that "helping" meant "solving", when all that was really desired was for them to be there with us while we worked out our issues for ourselves.

    Do I have to help someone if I don't really want to?
No, you don't. I would, in fact, suggest that it is probably a bad idea to help someone if you don't want to, because you are likely to resent what you are doing and, intentionally or not, take that out on the person you are helping. General rule: do not give more than you can afford to lose.

    If I started to help, can I stop? How do I stop?
Not only can you stop, if you are feeling like you have exceeded your tolerances for what you can afford to lose, you are well advised to stop. Trying to remain engaged passed your limits is abusive to yourself, and that cannot be a help to the other person. (Anyone that thinks you should hurt yourself on their behalf is NOT someone you will likely help. It is not helping them to be their victim.) If you are violating yourself by working past your limits, what kind of model and example are you offering to the person you are helping? When you are at your limit, it is important for you to stop.

Stopping most often can be done by telling the truth simply, "I think I have to stop now." A lot of people offer some kind of cover story such as, "Oh, my cat just knocked over a water bottle and I have to clean it up," in order to end the session. I'm not a big fan of this approach. If the person is not going to allow you to discontinue without a fight when you tell the truth, they are not going to do so when you tell the lie, either. Honesty served with compassion and caring is, I think, a much easier way to go. If the honest expression of the need to stop is met with hostility or resistance, it is likely that you have, if anything, waited too long to disengage.

    How do I know if I am in over my head?
This is both easy and difficult to describe. If you think you are in over your head, you are. If you think you MIGHT be in over your head, you are. There is a discomfort you feel hearing someone else's discomfort, and that sympathetic reaction is fine. There is, however, another discomfort that can come from feeling their sense of loss, helplessness and despair, and that reaction is not as fine. Think of yourself as an anchor line to which they can attach their ship in a turbulent sea. If your anchor is pulling loose, you cease to be of any real help to them, and it is time to disengage.

    What do I do if I think I am in over my head?
Remember that it is not your job to take on damage for the other person's sake. It is, if anything, kind of impolite to damage yourself on their behalf without asking if they wanted you to do that. If they DID want you to do that, you most definitely don't want to do that.  So, rule one is do not get yourself hurt in the act of helping. The caretaker, who fails to take care of themselves, ceases to be able to care for the other person.

State calmly that this interaction is starting to be more than you are feeling you are able to handle, and that you would like to stop now. Patiently giving the other person time to collect themselves is fine, getting sucked into another hour of interaction, though, is not. When you have said you want to stop, YOU have to honor that statement. If, after a few minutes, they are not ready to stop, you may have to summarily leave. You can tell them you will check back with them later and, if you can, specify when later will be. 

If, after you have disengaged, you are feeling jangled by what happened, seek the support of others. Let them be with you as you talk through and sort out what happened. Know that this is your problem to work through, but that they can be with you while you are doing that work. If they tell you they need to stop, let them go.


People get caught up in emotional distress mostly without intending to do so. Only the psychotherapists are crazy enough to engage those distresses deliberately. Those of us that have done this for a long time are likely pretty good at it, and also very likely very good at knowing our limits, knowing our boundaries and knowing when to stop. Part of being able to stop, for me, is a firm and fervent belief that people can get better, stronger, more resilient, and that, while this will likely take some time, they will sustain themselves through the process. I believe in them, and sometimes that belief is most of what they needed.  BEING THERE is the start, and sometimes the whole of it.
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