We have all been there - a situation when we need to have a difficult conversation with someone and we just don’t know how to start. Maybe, someone we love is going through something that is really difficult and we want to give them their space but we also want to remind them… we are there for them.
Sharon Brennan, the creator of the There’s An Elephant in the Room cards, has developed a greeting card that will help you say what you need to say. The Elephant in the Room cards give a person a chance to say something that might be difficult to say, but that needs to be said but in a way that is more comfortable for all parties.
After visiting Sharon’s website and reading through her cards, I was inspired to learn more about what inspired her to create these cards and how people can use them to handle different situations in their lives. In the following interview, you’ll get a sense of the person behind this great idea as well as inspiration on how to incorporate them into your difficult conversations.
Soulgineering: Can you describe, “There’s an Elephant in the Room” cards?
Sharon: “There’s an Elephant in the Room Cards” were designed to help people move with grace through difficult moments in their relationships. When I was creating them, I tried to think of all the times in my life when I had found words so difficult to say out loud. I then came to realize that when I did have the courage to say the words, suddenly I was on a new road with the relationship or situation. Sometimes this meant leaving someone behind that was doing me harm and often it was a time when I needed help but was too proud or afraid to ask for it. For some reason many of us have come to believe that we have to carry a burden alone or save face by not speaking up. Often for me, if I let a stressful issue go too long, I find that I deal with the scenario with much less grace because I am frustrated or angry by the time I say anything at all. These cards are designed to help people who are afraid yet know things must change, and just can’t say the words out loud. Available in paper and e-cards, they have been created to restore, to blast holes in dark places and let the light in, and to move elephants out of rooms. Although the subject matter is brewed in difficult times, each card is infused with humanity, each message written with an imagined positive outcome and each elephant standing aware of the weight it carries as it travels to its destination.
Soulgineering: What caused the light bulb to go off in your head that you should turn sometimes awkward, uncomfortable or even sometimes hard-to-state loving comments into a type of greeting card?
Sharon: A few years ago our daughter was accepted to university and my husband and I were so proud. We told everyone what a genius she was. We were THOSE people who after a dinner party, the rest of the guests ask “do they really think they are the only people who have ever had a child accepted to a university?” We didn’t care. We carried on. We would chat brightly about her future – she might teach, (at a university level of course). She might write a book, (certainly it would be a best seller!) As summer days passed we became more sentimental. The evening before her flight there was champagne and tears. She was ready! We knew it. Looking back now, I don’t remember our daughter having that much to say that summer. Off she went to school though and within a matter of days she had met a boy and by Christmas she had dropped out, moved in with him and shortly thereafter announced they were going to Australia.
We were devastated and reacted with all kinds of things like “You’re ruining your life!” “Do you know how many people can’t go to university?” And my personal favorite, “How could you do this to US?” Replaying these events in my mind I realized that the frustration we felt was amplified by not saying what we were really feeling. We should have said what was in our hearts. “We love you so much. Please be careful with your precious life. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come home”.
Not long after this a friend of mine found herself standing in church next to her mother’s casket. Beside her was her sister whose rounded belly told all that she was expecting her first baby. Their Dad had died a year before in a car accident and now their Mum had gone the same way. I sat and watched these two women and wondered how they would cope. Sniffles in the congregation displayed that many were grieving this loss, yet the sisters stood tall, spoke strongly of loving memories and met each guest with care. Listening to the minister’s calming words I looked around the room. Children were fidgeting, couples were pensively looking on and seniors were no doubt remembering friends who were gone. I looked back at my friend and realized that within a few days the routine would resume for us. I wondered, “As the rest of us recover and move on what about you?”
The initial idea for these cards though came from an incident involving a friend’s son who was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He had been to rehabilitation centers and seemed to be improving until one day when his Dad stopped by his apartment unexpectedly and very quickly realized that his boy was using drugs again. Confronting him he asked, “Why didn’t you tell me you were in trouble? You know I would help you.” His son sat for a moment and said “I’ve let you down so many times, I just couldn’t disappoint you again. I just couldn’t say the words out loud.” To think that a person could have all of this love and support and yet feel like they couldn’t say the necessary words to ask for help, well it just broke my heart.
Soulgineering: What are some examples of Elephant in the room cards?
Sharon: There are 24 cards in the line so I won’t list them all, theycan be seen at www.elephantroomcards.com, but a few I like are:
- “I love how you can save the day…but I need to do this for myself”
- “I’m confused…what has changed between us”.
- “I’m exhausted…I can’t be happy for both of us”
- “My heart is like a rock in my belly…I let you down and I’m sorry”
- “If we want to survive…we need to make a change”
Soulgineering: Some of the cards have a pretty intense message, for example, “Enough, enough…I have had enough” or “Simply put.you need to let me go.” how are people at the receiving end of these cards responding?
Sharon: One of the surprising things is that I don’t really hear from people who receive the cards, but I do hear from those who sent them. The real purpose of the line is to open up communication. This may bring some defensive reactions at times. This is natural. Once the message has been delivered though, it’s out there and it has to be addressed, so when I get letters they come from people who have made the decision that they can’t stand keeping everything inside anymore, and they do feel like a tremendous burden has been lifted off their shoulders even if it has brought with it consequences that force an issue. They have left the chaos and sick stomach that comes with not speaking their own truth, and in some cases they have finally asked someone for help. Both of these scenarios carry tremendous power. I spoke to a man this weekend, a lawyer who told me that until he became sick with cancer he had no idea how much so many people cared for him. He said, “If one of my friends sent me a card that said “I’m in trouble”, I would drop everything and go to them to help them”, so why would this man be so willing to offer help but be so afraid to ask for it when he was in need? I have also had people tell me that when they send a more difficult message often the person on the receiving end is almost as relieved as they are, because they too haven’t had the courage to address the elephant in the room but know at some point the conversation is going to have to take place.
Soulgineering: In situations involving those cards, do you think that the response from the receiver is kind of not that important, it is really all about the empowerment of the sender?
Sharon: I think that all of the parts of our human experience that we can control, are governed by one thing, and that is, how we react to what is going on in our lives. So the cards are all about the sender reacting with respect to whatever situation has brought them to this place. The person who receives the card is then given exactly the same opportunity to respond with respect or not. The sender cannot control this but with an open and yes empowered heart, they can know that they did what they could to keep communication in a non-aggressive environment. The cards are generally straight forward enough that they are clear and leave little ambiguity for the one on the receiving end. It has been my experience that the more aggressive someone is about receiving news in a respectful way, the more important it was to deliver the message in the first place.
Soulgineering: What do you advise people to do once they have sent the card?
Sharon: I really don’t advise. I am the creator of the cards and I have certainly given all of this a lot of thought, but I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist so I am careful about giving advice. My thought though, based on my own vast, life experience from past relationship mess-ups, when I didn’t say what was needed to be said, is that every single relationship will unfold, restore or end, based on the individuals in it and who they are, where they are in their lives and what each of them want going forward. I think that most of us know what to do most of the time, we just don’t have the courage to do it. Many people stay in unhappy relationships citing a multitude of excuses, or spend their lives complaining to people who cannot do anything about the situation, rather than taking the steps to fix it themselves. So to answer your question, the only thing a person can do once they have sent the cards is wait for the reaction that comes back and then react to that, keeping the initial goal of respectful communication in mind
Sharon Brennan has co-written and contributed to two books, The Action Sandwich and The Right Road. Sharon has a solid background in Arts Management having worked in the world of symphony orchestras in marketing, development and special events roles as well as senior administration. For the past decade she has acted as manager, promoter and co-writer with musician, author and public speaker Alan Frew.
She also works for Jeans ’n Classics Inc., (www.jeansnclassics.com) her family business creates, produces and performs symphonic rock concerts with orchestras all over the world. Sharon and her family live in Canada.
Visit There’s an Elephant in the Room website to view cards and learn more about Sharon.