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Breaking bad news is never easy. No one enjoys being the bearer of bad news, especially when you know that the news will upset your loved ones. How do you tell your close relatives that you’ve been fired when you know that they’ve never been more proud of you than when you got that job? How do you tell them that you’ve decided to end your relationship when they adore your partner? How do you tell your parents that you’ve decided to leave the country when they’ve always said that they’d be heartbroken if they had to be away from their children? Having such conversations can be very daunting. I would like to share some tips about how you can take care of yourself and your relatives when going through difficult periods in your life.

  • Think about how much you want to share

Before you break bad news, think about how much information you are willing to share with your relatives. Going into too much detail might make you feel exposed and vulnerable, and it might be too upsetting for your relatives to hear all at once. It might be good to practice what you want to say so that you can then calmly explain what happened without rambling and beating around the bush.

  • Pick a good time

There is never an ideal time to share bad news, but if possible, try to find a time where the receiver is available and can be receptive to what you are saying. Sharing such news when a person is in a rush or is seemingly angry because of something that might have happened to them during the day, will create more tension.

  • Accept any kind of response

Be prepared to receive silence, anger, sadness or any other reaction. Everyone has their own way of dealing with bad news. It’s useful to keep in mind that you might have had some time to process the news, but your loved ones would not. They might be quick to judge or give advice that you do not agree with, even if out of good intent.

  • Ask them what they need from you and tell them what you need from them

It might be a good idea to ask them what they need from you so that you can understand their positioning, and also to allow them the space to feel acknowledged.  You can also share what would help you in this moment and talk about your emotions and your needs. Discussing this might help you think of a plan so that together you can decide what to do next.

  • Seek other support

Opening up to friends, colleagues or a therapist might help you see things from different perspectives. It might also give you the opportunity to have a safe space to ask for practical and emotional support. Your relatives might not be able to offer this because of their own grief or other processes which they’d be experiencing.

Claire Borg is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on claire@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.