Ali Woods: A beginner’s guide to talking about feelings

Fringe Debuts!

Welcome to our Fringe Debuts series, where comedians taking their first show to Edinburgh Fringe will give you a little taster of what to expect, an insight into their world, or really super weird musings on something equally bizarre — to be honest, we just let them run with it. If you’re readying yourself for a giant lol injection in August, now’s your chance to find something NEW to add to your list.

Ali Woods is performing Best Friend Ever, a show about discovering he was a bad friend and how he tried to be better. Here, he gives his guide to having emotional conversations, for those who aren’t so keen on having them.

If you grew up emotionally stunted like me then you know what it’s like. Anytime anyone (including yourself) tries to talk about anything serious, your immediate reaction is to take the piss, change the subject, or sometimes just flat out ignore them.

It’s a great tradition passed down from repressed generation to repressed generation. Would bring a tear to your eye, if you didn’t push that stupid unnecessary tear back to wherever the hell it came from!

But unfortunately, it’s much healthier just chatting about stuff. I know, isn’t that a bummer.

So for all of you who absolutely HATE these emotional conversations, here’s a practical guide on how to have them, by someone who had to learn on the job and quickly.

Eat first

I cannot stress how important this is!

Try to avoid chatting about things just before dinner. There’s no need to add hanger in as another pesky emotion to an already boiling pot of undiagnosed trauma and existential grief.

People in general are much more receptive on a full stomach. It will help you to chat to each other more calmly and will reduce the risk of anyone flaring off and getting mad over something small, or a poor choice of words. Eat first, eat well and then start the conversation.

‘That was delicious… so I notice you’ve been punching a lot of walls recently?’


Ask questions

My hunch is part of why you hate these conversations is because you’re a problem-solver.

What’s the point of just chatting around a subject without discovering the exact way in which to rectify it!

But unfortunately these ones don’t have a clear answer, and it certainly won’t be obvious how to solve their issues after just one discussion. So fight that urge to find a solution to everything. Just ask questions.

How does that make you feel? Do you think that’s fair? What are you doing to try and stop this from happening again?

It’s like realising you have a superpower, suddenly you are solving the problem without having to do it yourself! Your role here is to try and help them come to conclusions themselves, and not to tell them what to do and how to do it. Also avoid using the word ‘why’, it sounds confrontational.

If you have an issue with this, I’d be keen to know, do you feel you’ve always had an issue asking questions?

Share your own softie bullshit

I know, the worst! Unfortunately in order to help someone else be open about a touchy topic, you’ll have to share some of your own vulnerabilities. It’s actually ridiculous, this isn’t supposed to be about me, it’s supposed to be about them — I’m FINE!!!

By showing off some of your shiny emotions, it helps make the other person feel less alone, less crazy for feeling the way they do.

Search for embarrassing stories, stuff that you don’t really tell anyone. ‘Hey man, it’s not unusual, I remember when I got dumped I felt like I was the ugliest piece of shit in the world.’ Obviously I’m just making things up as an example here…

Also it gets the person who’s having the tough time to feel like the care-giver, boosting their self-esteem. It’s a nice little switcheroo.

So be open, share your feelings, and you never know, it might help you out too.

Make jokes

Good news! You can still take the piss to an extent.

Humour is a great ice-breaker for these sorts of situations, and you’ll be amazed at how much dark humour can be cathartic for both of you. It makes everyone remember that things are alright, and cracking a smile when you’re miserable is mentally restorative.

As a stand-up my favourite audiences are nurses and social workers, as their lives are so traumatic they have incredible senses of humour, to help them get through. Use that devilment that you have in you. Remind them that everything doesn’t have to be so serious. Just maybe don’t start totally roasting them. Might be a tough crowd.

Remember you’re not a professional

Whilst we might like to think we’re going to fix everything, it’s good to understand that someone else’s mental health is not your job. Just in the same way it’s not fair for yours to be someone else’s to sort.

If you have a friend who is struggling, encourage them to seek professional help. Whether that is therapy, counselling, support groups, there are loads of ways to engage with professional setups geared towards helping. Your job is to support it, not to sort it!

These conversations will be some of the most important you ever have, so take them on.

Good luck trooper, you can do this!

Ali Woods: Best Friend Ever runs from 3-28th Aug, 5:25pm, at Underbelly. Tickets here

Ali is on Twitter and Instagram at @aliwoodsgigs


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