Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Farmers Can Heal Themselves

June 2, 1997

When do farmers involve outsiders in their struggle with an eroding financial position?

When the pain is great enough. Even at that, the denial of reality may delay the decision to go for help and make a bad situation more precarious.

Here are some reasons why turning to others for help is a smart thing to do.

Find a `safe place.’ A farmer needs to be able to verbalize his pain, grief and confusion in a safe place. The obvious place to begin is within the emotional closeness and security of the marital relationship.

This is a place where human beings can count on bedrock of love and acceptance. By expressing inner thoughts and feelings, a couple draws from each other the love and strength they need to deal with their situation.

Yet it is not that easy. Some men feel they must always be in control. They have come to believe that sharing confusion, fear and pain is not manly and is a sign of weakness.

They take the financial survival of the farm squarely on their shoulders. They try to protect their wives from the harsh and painful reality.

By shielding their mate from reality, they deny themselves a check on the reasonableness of their own ideas and perceptions. In expressing how they feel about their problems, people define their feelings and gain control over their emotions. The problem takes shape and form. In conversing about a problem, people bring charity to their thinking.

Taking away fear. Information about the problem takes away fear. Emotions keep the solution from happening. Advice from attorneys, accountants, ag financial counselors and farm couples who have been through similar difficulties gives profile to the problem.

Once a farmer acquaints himself with the tools at his disposal, he puts himself in a better position to generate solutions. Adding information is like switching on a light in a dark room. It takes away the fear.

Having basic information brings back self-esteem. The farmer learns he is not the problem. The problem is externalized. He can be more logical.

Now he is back on his familiar problem-solving turf. He can take action and do something to help his cause. The problem is no longer how the situation got out of hand, but what can be done about it now.

Crossing hurdles. Openness about problems opens the door to emotional support within the community. Letting others know about the financial problems is the biggest hurdle to cross.

Many farmers say this was the turning point in their recovery. They stopped worrying about what others thought and did whatever it took to survive. 

One Kansas farmer described how he and his wife shared their hurt and pain first with a minister and finally from the pulpit in their church.

Once they made the first move, their neighbors and friends gave them overwhelming support. They gave their friends an opportunity to show their friendship. With the ice broken, they were able to be completely open and honest with others.

The pain of losing a farm taught them to care. They reached out to others for support and, in turn, supported others. The farm couple learned to value themselves independently of the financial problems. They realized that going from "blue chip" to "bad risk" wasn’t so much a reflection on their management ability as it was about changing conditions.

This feeling of self-worth didn’t come as long as they suffered silently and blamed themselves unmercifully for the problems. They became judges of their own character. They were no longer subject to the tyranny of public opinion, gossip or backbiting. They stopped measuring their self-worth by their net worth.

A new, better life. The financial crisis gave them new life - a better life. They didn’t realize how restrictive it was to try to maintain their image in the community. By admitting their problems, they were free. With that freedom, they found the hope, honesty, growth and love that lessened their pain and enriched their lives. All in all, they wouldn’t trade the changes that had occurred. Success can come out of failure.

Heroic self-sufficiency in certain circumstances is stupidity. Not going for help keeps anger and bitterness alive. Not going for help keeps people from talking and loving one another.

A farmer doesn’t need to be alone. By going for help, he heals himself through sharing feelings, pain and tears. He learns how much other people care. He rebuilds his self-esteem. He objectively evaluates his situation after seeking additional opinions.

By going for help soon enough, he improves his chances of working out his problems. Best of all, he discovers a new and better life, a more human and loving life.

If this is what getting help means, it can’t be all bad. In asking for help, a farmer doesn’t give up his basic responsibilities. What he is doing is expanding his resources to meet the problem.