Thursday, 30 May 2013

Listening, an often underrated skill

One of the things I hate most about talking to my friends and loved ones about my mental health is this: they often assume what I want or need from them is advice and a way to fix things. There are times when that is what I'm asking for, sure but most of the time all I want is someone to listen. There are times when I need to just talk, to get thoughts out of my head and to share my experience. 

What often happens instead is a horrible cycle of frustration and upset for everyone involved. I try to talk, my confidant jumps in to offer advice. I become upset and frustrated because I'm not being listened too, because someone is trying to 'fix' me and tell me what I should be doing. They become frustrated because their advice isn't being taken on board, it can feel like I don't want to get better and ultimately they are trying to help but clearly aren't. Not a nice position for anybody to be in. We both tend to walk away from such conversations exhausted and unhappy, often with each other. 

I understand that sometimes it can be overwhelming to listen to me talk. If you don't think you can listen right now, much as that might be painful for me to hear it's also OK for you to say. If you think you might be able to listen at a different time please make that clear, though also don't assume or expect I will be able to talk at the same point you are able to listen.

When I am telling you I don't know what to do, that I feel lost, alone or helpless that's not me asking you to tell me what I should do or how to fix things. When I say I don't know what to do, have you got any ideas? Or when I ask what you think I could or should be doing, that's different. 

 Sometimes people tell me in a slightly injured tone that they don't feel they get the chance to add anything to the conversation. This is simply not true. By listening to me you are doing so much, providing something I need so very badly. Every time you start to think that not having something to add, by not having magical answers that will fix everything you aren't helping please take a deep breath and remind yourself of this fact. Listening is the single most useful and helpful thing you could be doing, taking time out of your day to hear me - someone who has spent so much of her life not being heard - is showing me that you care, that you want to help, that you are there for me in the ways I need you to be. Not many people are able to do this, so when it feels like you aren't doing enough I need you to know you are doing everything.

It's hard to just listen, I get that. I've been there too. I understand that you might also be having a tough time, that you might want to talk too. Or that you simply can't sit back and listen right now. I understand too that it's really hard to sit and listen to someone you care about in pain when all your instincts are telling you you must be doing something, when you really want to just make it all better.

That's in part why I'm writing this. None of us get it right all the time, I'm no more able to simply listen every time than you are. I think we need to be kind to each other here and simply try to understand. Every time you are able to listen, that's a time I will treasure. Every time you aren't, I will do my best not to be hurt and angry. I won't be able to do that every time but I'll do my best, you do the same and hopefully we can help each other. 

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