I want to share an experience I had yesterday at a BBQ where everyone present had a diagnosed mental health condition. It was a consumer organised event so there were no mental health professionals present. Someone got very upset over an issue that was raised. To calm the situation down, people asked him to shut up, tried to change the topic or just ignored him. The more this was done, I noticed the more agitated and aggressive he became as he tried to bring people back to the issue. The intensity was almost like life and death.
I think back about the time when I felt abandoned and dismissed and how much acceptance, acknowledgment and affirmation would ease the suffering. (I come from a child abuse and bullying background where I felt invisible, voiceless, disempowered and abandoned, so I had some experience of what it feels like.)
I sat with this person as he raved on, swearing and all. By being present for him, and gently acknowledging his pain, telling him "I hear you. We hear you", affirming and reassuring him "we are on your side", doing all this patiently, again and again until he could take it in and feel safe and connected again. As I persisted I sensed the intensity of his emotions shifting downwards in very small degrees but eventually got to the stage when I could ask him if he wanted a sip of his drink, preserving his autonomy, rather than telling him to take drink, avoiding the presumption that I know what is best for him. When someone is at the stage when they are unable to self soothe or switch off, the person needs genuine empathy (ie by sharing in their pain, by acknowledging and affirming, gently, patiently, calmly) to assist them on the journey to deintensify.
Acknowledging someone's feelings is not stirring them up. It is validating them, and that is calming and soothing. Hopefully this person will over time be able to do it for themselves as they grow in their journey. But acceptance of each other for where we are at and helping in a heartful way is an act of love that blesses the giver and recipient.