Helping people make tradeoffs through emotional respect
It’s hard to get someone to go against their emotions.
Picture a first-time parachutist, about to step out of the plane. Their body and their emotions are giving lots of “don’t jump” signals, but they do it anyway. The fear doesn’t just go away, and then they jump. They remain terrified, and then they jump anyway. They make the tradeoff. “This doesn’t feel right, but I’ll do it anyway”.
Food avoidance decisions can work in a similar way. For a variety of reasons (culture, social media, habit, peer influence, etc.) people come to fear, distrust, or just avoid certain foods. With emotional respect, you may be able to help them try those foods again, even if it doesn’t “feel right” for them.
In this short editorial, pediatrician Edith Bracho-Sanchez, describes how she uses this approach for another fear-based avoidance problem: vaccine hesitation.
She describes her experience with two families whom she eventually convinced to make the tradeoff, that is, get their kids vaccinated, even if it didn’t feel quite right to them. Her approach, in short, was to treat them with emotional respect. It was a gradual process. And they “agreed to disagree, at first”.
Here are two details of her emotional respect approach:
First, she listens, so she can understand the emotion (the fear) and figure out how to start to, respectfully, address it:
I'm always sincere. I shut my mouth and listen, and it is only when I've understood the root of a parent's concern that I start talking.
Next, she “normalizes” the source of the fear, and makes it seem more familiar, comfortable, and, well, normal:
One of the families was skeptical of anything that they didn't perceive as natural going into their baby's body, so I focused my efforts on explaining how the components of vaccines are safe. Yes, they are chemicals, but they have never been proved to be harmful, I said. Our bodies, our food, our world is made up of chemicals.
So she diminished their fear, somewhat. But, she also gave her patients the comfort to vaccinate “despite the fear”, because they trusted her, they felt respected, and it started to seem normal.
The same approach should work for helping people stop avoiding certain foods: Reduce fear by normalizing unfamiliar food processes. And if you’ve earned trust, people may make a leap of faith despite some lingering doubt or fear.