Tip of the Month
Each of us has had an experience in which we became emotional, and ended up saying or doing things that we later regretted. Emotional outbursts can be a result of, feeling a loss of control, not being heard, reminders of past trauma, or just being uncomfortable.
The members we serve have these experiences as well. Though, those with mental health and/or disabilities can be more likely to regularly experience these frustrations. With communication difficulties, cognitive problems, interfering thoughts, and physical constraints, life for the members we serve brings out many more opportunities for loss of emotional control. For this reason, it is a good idea to be prepared if a member becomes escalated.
Focus on the person, not the emotional outbursts.
If somebody is behaving inappropriately due to heightened emotions, it is easy to inform them their behavior is unacceptable, and ask them to stop. This may be successful for some and unsuccessful with others. However, the problem with relying on this strategy is that it does not address the core emotional problem, and it creates a situation in which the member relies on staff for their emotional regulation.
Instead of being directive, find a safe space where the person can vent, and talk about their frustrations. Whether you agree or not, recognize that their emotional experience is real. The more they feel as though they are being heard, the easier it will be to develop strategies for working through the situation. Listen without judgement. With some members this may mean letting someone vent. With other members (especially those with communication difficulties), this may require asking a lot of clarifying questions until the person is able to fully express how they are feeling.
Provide time and space to come down from the emotions.
If somebody doesn’t want to talk, provide space to cool down. This may mean allowing them to temporarily step away from their responsibilities. It may even create a situation that is unfair to you as a staff member, or to other roommates. Though these short term problems may arise, allowing someone to space to use coping skills will eventually lead to better self-regulation, which is ultimately the best long-term solution.
Move the conversation away from public spaces.
There are times when a member you are working with may. become escalated in public. Although it may feel right for them in the moment, public emotional outbursts can lead to feelings of stigma and shame at later times. If you can offer some sort of concession to get that person into a safe, private space, it may be a good idea. Even if it is something you will have to take back later, it will be worth it to move the emotional escalation to a place where the consequences will be less negative.
Come back to the problem once the emotions have subsided.
If an individual has effectively used coping skills to come down from emotional escalation, it can be easy as a staff person to consider your work done. However, this will not prevent outbursts from happening in the future. Once a person has calmed down, it can be one of the best times to talk with them about what happened, and strategies for avoiding it in the future. These are difficult conversations to have because usually, everyone involved is pretty drained from the situation. They can also cause people to get escalated again, in which case the process may start over. However, having these conversations is key to helping members become more emotionally stable and independent.