I’M GOOD A LISTENER, BUT….
… I have to make them feel better!
PREVIOUS: Relationship For B – #2
If Speaking is Silver, then LISTENING is GOLD ~ Turkish proverb
This is a basic ACoA problem area, & again using the framework is T. E. A.
LISTENING can be passive or active, but basically – the less said the better! Wanting to be listened to is not always asked for directly. When someone starts talking & then keeps going & going – they want to be heard.
Accurate & compassionate listening means we don’t try to make the other person a carbon copy of us. Even if we strongly identify, listening is about THEM – where they’re at, what they’re feeling & thinking. Don’t talk about yourself too much. You are the listen-er, they are the listen-ee.
• The first if the following 3 examples (in ‘Listening’ Part 1 & 2) refer to any kind of upset or distress the other person is in. In each case, if we’re listening from the WIC or PP, what seems like ‘helping’ responses will actually be an expression of our own narcissism – the compulsion to do or say something WE feel we must, but is actually NOT useful to the other person & often not wanted. Don’t get in the way of someone else’s process by needing to fix it!
1. (E) When someone asks you to listen to them, & they’re expressing strong emotions (sadness, anger, fear…), AND you begin by saying why they shouldn’t feel that way, OR come up with a way to fix it, you are trampling on their right to fee & express their emotions
EXP: After my fire, when I told people how sad I was that both my cats were killed by the smoke, some people said: “Well then get new cats”!
• ACoAs who are responding from their WIC will over-identify with the other person’s distress. Since we didn’t get the help we needed as kids, we project that on to others & decide (maybe unconsciously) that we won’t do the same to them – to leave them in the lurch. We compulsively have to ‘help’.
• PROBLEM with this ‘logic’: When we were originally abandoned, we were very young! But the people we’re usually listening to now are adults, with many resources & capacities no child can possibly have, so they don’t need us the way we needed someone. And, we’re not their parent, no matter how immaturely they may act!
• Negating a person’s emotions or trying to make them ‘feel better’ wastes everyone’s time because
— the listen-ee may just shut down & not be able to continue, OR
— waste a lot of energy convincing you how & why they feel that way
• Rule #1, yes – zip the lip!
• ASK them what they’re feeling – emotionally. Don’t let then give you HEAD answers (anything more than one word is a thought). You can ask them what they’re feeling emotionally vs. what are they thinking. See posts on “Feelings Aren’t Facts” If they’re not sure, maybe you can help them identify the words – like fear, self-hate, frustration OR excitement, joy, love… If you also aren’t clear about what they may be experiencing, be quiet.
• If you are in the ‘mood’ to respond, always start by validating whatever emotions they can articulate. It doesn’t mean you identify with the feelings or the situation, nor is that necessary. You can say brief, comforting things like “Wow, that’s tough”, “I know what you mean”, “Sorry to hear that” , “I’ve been there too”…. “Sound like you’re in a lot of pain”, “That must really make you angry”, “Ouch!”. But, DO NOT assume you know how someone feels. If they disagree with your opinion, drop it.
• If you know them well, have experienced something similar AND feel like it – you could help them figure out what’s behind their big emotions: old beliefs, the WIC over-reacting, family patters, current similarity to childhood experiences…. If they’re able to do that, the solution to their problem may be obvious to them without any more help from you
• If their feelings sound ‘crazy, irrational, ‘out of proportion’ to the situation, remember: “If it’s Hysterical, it’s Historical”. Their WIC is in the foreground. But it’s not your job to parent them & you’re not their therapist. In that state anything you say may be heard as denying their experience.
CAVEAT: If you’re listening to someone who is deep into the emotion of self-hate, there’s very little you can do to make a difference in that moment. DO NOT try to talk someone out of S-H. It’s futile. Their WIC has completely regressed into a familiar childhood state & they’re locked in for the time being. Because S-H is about denying the pain of abandonment, while trying to have a little control over their sense of powerlessness & futility – they’re not going to come out of it right away.
— A possible comment is: “Wow,_____, I hear that you’re really beating yourself up mercilessly. Why is that?”
— You can also ask: What’s happened recently that hurt you or disappointed you so much?” (Review posts on “Self-Hate”). If you think they’ll understand, you can gently suggest they’re feeling some deep abandonment
— If you feel safe enough, you could add your own version of: “Your self-hate is really painful for me to hear. It’s like watching some I care about cut themselves or shoot heroin!” Yes, that’s how devastating S-H is!
NEXT: ACoAs & Listening (Part 2)