Have you ever had the experience of sharing your life challenges or problems with an empathic listener who gave you his or her undivided attention? A kind of listener who did not judge you and really cared about what you had to say. Someone who was not quick to give you advice and solutions but was interested to hear how you felt about your life challenges. When I recall my experiences of being heard and deeply understood by someone, I know the experience helped me to cope with whatever I was dealing with at the time. Caring people who I have turned to in difficult times helped me the most by listening and asking about my feelings. By encouraging me to talk about my feelings, they gave me the opportunity to put words into how I was feeling. Each time I named how I felt inside in relation to what was going on in my life I felt more in control.
<!–break–> Once when I volunteered at a local HIV and cancer clinic, I found the helpfulness of empathic listening. As a volunteer, I was providing emotional support to people with health related problems. Empathic listening really made a difference in how patients felt about their health problems. By sharing about their illness and my willingness to listen, they felt less alone. Feeling alone and facing difficult life challenges can be very painful. Having a witness to life sufferings in the form of an empathic listener can make it less painful. For example, patients who could identify their feelings of fear and vulnerability in relation to their health problems and communicate those feelings began to feel less dominated by fear and vulnerability. By becoming aware of their feelings, they felt more mastery over them.
We can make life easier for each other by becoming a better listener and encourage each other to share our feelings. We can become a better listener by not giving advice or problem solving unless we are asked to do so. Pressuring others to solve their life problems “our way” is not helpful. Most people intuitively know how to solve their own problems. A good listener can help someone access that knowing place that has all the answers. As a listener, it’s important to be patient and not interrupt the speaker. Let the person say what he or she needs to say. Ask supportive questions which would help the speaker expand on what he or she needs to talk about. Let that person know it’s alright to talk about feelings and feel them as well.
<!–break–> When one does not share and reach out for support, he or she can remain a lonely mystery. Life can feel lonely when one keeps everything inside. Feeling alone with life problems can feel worse than the problem itself. When we let a caring person listen to our life struggles, we no longer feel alone with our problems. Don’t be afraid to ask your loved ones to take the time to listen. Sometimes you have to ask for it. People can not read your mind. Confiding in each other can have a positive effect on our mood.
<!–break–> Make a conscious decision to inquire about your friends or loved ones with what’s going on in their lives. By showing interest in the life of these people, you can strengthen your friendships. It’s very simple, and, yet, it can make a big difference in the way you relate to each other.<!–break–>
This article is copyrighted by Payam Ghassemlou, MFT, Ph.D.