“We offer others a chance to lighten their load when we say little and listen loudly.”
— Noah benShea
Human beings are hard-wired for connection. We need other people. We need to belong. We need to feel heard.
Stephen R. Covey is known for saying, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Haven’t you been on the receiving end of that kind of listening? And, let’s be honest, we’ve all probably “listened” that way too.
Ralph Nichols, considered the father of the “field of listening” believed that “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.”
I don’t think we ever outgrow the need for someone to hear us. Just hear us. Not to fix us. Not tell us how we are doing it wrong or how someone else was super-human in dealing with … stuff. (They weren’t, I promise. They either weren’t dealing with “it” at all or, more likely, they were wearing a mask of “everything is fine.”)
I recently experienced the gift of being heard. I’ve been going through some stuff this year. Stuff with a capital SH. Yes, I’m strong, yes, I’ve been through really hard stuff before, like burying three of my beloved children. But, by golly, the most recent stuff has just dropped me to my knees, both literally and figuratively.
Life — and grief, which is a part of life — is not linear. It has ups and downs, twists and turns, like some wild roller coaster that you can’t ever exit. The ups are awesome but the downs can be really rough. On a recent “down,” I just could not pull myself out of the spiral. I know “all the things” that are supposed to help. I do “all the things” that are supposed to help but they were just not working.
I tried talking to someone close to me, but their first response was to tell me I was wrong. About my own feelings. That didn’t go over so well. Then, they tried to “fix” it, telling me I “should” do this or “should” try that. Also not helpful.
I finally allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to admit to a small group of friends that I was really struggling. The next day, a handful of us met for breakfast and they let me talk. They didn’t try to fix me. They didn’t tell me how I was wrong to be feeling the way I was. They didn’t ask “Aren’t you over it yet?” They just listened and validated and affirmed.
I left that breakfast feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted. I just needed someone to hear me. To hear that stuff is hard. To hear that while I know I’ll get through it, some days I just want to stay in bed with the covers over my head. To hear that I don’t know how to navigate this new stuff life has handed me and I’m afraid I’ll “do it wrong.”
What a gift it was to just be heard.
Leon Seltzer, a clinical psychologist, lists 10 reasons why feeling heard and understood is so critical to our well-being and sense of security.
We are known. Our identity is confirmed and we feel validated. We feel we exist and that we belong. We feel part of a community, part of something larger than ourselves. We feel accepted and empowered. We learn to understand ourselves better. We feel more satisfaction and connection in our relationships.
Counselor Carl Nassar notes, “When we feel understood ... we show [others] our true selves — flaws and all. In turn, they are more likely to be vulnerable and honest with us. This helps us connect ... on a deeper level, improving the quality of our relationships.”
Finally, we are shielded from the depths of depression. Or perhaps our sojourns in the depths of depression are shorter and less frequent than they otherwise might have been.
Author and activist Catherine Doherty said “With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing.”
Amen, sister. Amen.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.