This article is about empathy and how to tell if someone’s story is being heard. Listening and accepting what’s said as truth is the foundation of being empathetic. The basis is to not discount what’s shared due to lack of a personal reference point. You can watch the accompanying video here.
The key is to listen to what someone is telling you and not to listen while mentally formulating a response. Don’t search your history for a similar situation that you can then share with them. For example, they say they’ve been having trouble sleeping peacefully since being in a car accident. Instead of listening, and maybe helping them brainstorm ways they can sleep better, you tell them about the time you were in a car accident and how that affected you.
It can, sometimes, be a catch 22. The person may appreciate your ability to relate or they may think you’re making the conversation about you. They’re sharing with you so their voice will be heard and their feelings validated.
There may be times you, yourself, don’t feel heard and validated. How well you know the person you’re speaking with will guide you in your response. If you realize someone isn’t listening to you explain your feelings there’s several things you can do:
1. Stop attempting to explain your feelings to them and simply listen to what they’re saying to you,
2. Make a mental note to not disclose heartfelt things to them because they’re not able, or willing, to hear you,
3. Confide in a different person in your support network,
4. Don’t feel discouraged or frustrated; they may not realize how their words are negatively affecting you, and
5. If the friendship is important to you, or you can be content not sharing your feelings with this person, explain later on how you felt unheard and invalidated.
Keep in mind not everyone in your circle is able to hear your heart. It may be due to their own past trauma, them being self-centered, or their inability to empathize with a situation they don’t have a personal reference for. The same may be true for you when someone’s sharing their feelings with you.
It seems like it’d be easy to imagine someone else’s pain and listen to them share their feelings with you. An example would be understanding someone has physical discomfort after breaking a leg. You see their cast, you see them unable to walk without assistance, you know their life has temporarily changed. You don’t need to have had a broken leg to know this person is in pain.
Emphasizing with someone’s emotional pain is different because you aren’t able to see it. You may be unable to imagine what it feels like unless you’ve had a similar experience to draw sensory information from. The key is to simply listen to them and accept their words, and explanation, as to how they’re feeling and why. Everyone isn’t able to listen and accept your truth; if this is the type of person you’re speaking with, try not to have ill-feelings toward them. Their inability to hear, and emotionally support, you isn’t personal. Some people aren’t equipped to provide you with what you need and vice versa.
Additional information discussed in the video includes not becoming defensive when someone shares their feelings about a situation you were involved in as well as tidbits on active listening skills.
I hope this has been helpful. If you’ve been on either side of what this article talks about, I’d love to hear from you. Comments are always welcome, as well as subscribing and sharing.