We have all heard the phrase “Yeah but you’re not really listening to me are you”!! What does it mean to truly listen to someone? Most of the time we feel we are listening to what others say but what we are doing is mentally preparing what we are going to say when they stop talking. What might it be like to allow ourselves to be truly present in the moment as someone shares their thoughts, feelings, and emotions with us?
A good example of this can be sharing a problem with a group of friends. Friends often – with the best of intentions offer advice on how to deal with the issue. This can come from a good place as they want to steer you in the right direction and fix things. You might feel bombarded by the advice and sometimes feel directionless in the end. Others may also try to deflect the issue – such as “Cheer up its not that bad”, or “Well you really should be grateful for what you have” etc. What might be more supportive? Would this experience make us more or less likely to share how we feel?
Sometimes what we might really crave is for someone to just listen. Not to offer advice, not to tell us that we are being dramatic or overthinking – but to just listen. There is something incredibly powerful about someone being seen and heard. When our feelings are acknowledged, and we are supported in feeling them it allows them to move from a place of being stuck to becoming unstuck and fluid. When there is no one deflecting or advising, trying to fix or change your view it also opens a space for the other person to empathically feel those feelings too.
A friend of mine always says that you must meet people where they are at the time – not where you think they should be. This is a phrase that always resonated with me and a timely reminder that we can never assume how anyone feels because we all experience situations differently. There can be the idea that to acknowledge someone’s feelings is tantamount to supporting them in a wallowing and not pulling them out of that place. I disagree with this and feel that what it allows is a space for the individual to figure out not just how they are feeling but what direction they might want to go in next. I have seen this time and time again in my practice as a therapist where the act of speaking and describing emotions out loud can have a great impact on not only acknowledging them but allowing them to shift. Journaling can also have this effect. The visual impact of thoughts written down on paper can allow us to step back from them and view them in a different way.
It might be helpful to ask ourselves how often do we truly listen? Do we interrupt others in the middle of their conversations? Do we advise friends in what they should do? Its understandable that when someone shares a problem with us that we want to fix it for them. This can help sometimes, and it may also lead to the individual feeling more stressed and misunderstood. In turn they may begin to hold back on sharing their feelings and internalise them. Hence, the supporting of sharing of feelings can decrease someone’s anxiety and increase connection.
Its interesting to examine how we respond to other people’s emotions and feelings. When we witness others sharing difficult or challenging emotions it can be helpful to inquire how we ourselves deal with these emotions. What would it feel like not to say anything and just be there for them – even in the moments that we feel, from our own point of view, that they are overreacting? The more we dismiss other people’s feelings and emotions it only serves to intensify or amplify them. Acceptance and listening, most importantly, gives them space to feel what they need to feel in that moment. This can be difficult depending on the relationship we have with the person and it can create the right environment to have this space created for ourselves in return.
Listening can be hugely beneficial to us and what might the benefits are there not only for others but also for ourselves. Can we pull back from that desire to fix and direct others and move forward with the intention of giving more space to our conversations. If we can, we are inviting a new level of richness and strength into our relationships. We can increase our connections to others and find a new path that supports not only others but also ourselves on life’s challenging journey.
As Ralph G. Nichols states:
“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
Deirdre Wynne, Dancing Soul Psychotherapist
087 389 4388
- R. G. Goodreads Quotes Listening Quotes (798 quotes) (goodreads.com) Accessed 27/02/1021
- Art: www.strikemag.org