As we approach January 30 and the annual Bell Lets Talk day it is important that we do get reminded to talk about it. I have written and talked often about the importance of talking when you feel down, when you are feeling lonely, when you feel forgotten, when you feel that no one understands, when you feel pain, and when you feel forsaken. It is easy to slip into a shell and hope that these feelings will eventually go away.
Last week I presented to a group of farmers in Alberta. After the presentation someone approached me, thanked me for telling my story, and then went on to say that he did not struggle with mental health concerns. I challenged him to take what I talked about with him so that he could be there for someone else when they felt the need to talk.
Very often it is difficult to find someone that will listen. What happens when someone wants to talk to me? How do I react? Do I know how to listen? Do I respond in such a way that the other person comes away from the conversation feeling better?
Dr. Ralph Roughten has written some good thoughts on listening. Let me share a few of them.
“When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice
you have not done what I have asked.”
“When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me
why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on
“When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to
do something to solve my problem you have failed me,
strange as that may seem.”
“Listen! All I asked was that you listen – not talk or do.
Just hear me.”
Interesting how those thoughts reflect exactly my feelings when I feel the need to talk. Even more interesting is how I fail so miserably when others want to share with me. It is difficult not to jump in with advice or the age old “I know exactly how you feel”. Not so. I may understand how you feel. I may have had similar experiences but it is really difficult to “know” how someone feels. I know for myself, I always want to try to fix the problem. However, I need to stand back, listen and support. Be a source of strength. With my daughter who is experiencing incredible antenatal anxiety. With the young couple, excited about being parents, losing the pregnancy in a miscarriage. The colleague who relates to my issues, hears me out, but is seldom given the opportunity to share her story. A long suffering spouse, who has to deal with a husband who is trying to find his way but spends far too much time immersed in negative thinking and rumination.
Dr. Roughten has a further thought that I think can be important as we learn to listen to others.
“. . . when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what
I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to
convince you and get about the business of
understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.”
That reminds me so much of a neighbor who dropped by a number of years ago when I had reached new lows in my journey. A simple question from him got me talking and for as long as it took he listened, he validated and he normalized what I was experiencing. There was no judgement, just a listening ear. So as we become more aware of those around us that are struggling lets also do our part in being there for them. Listen more, understand more, love more. Make it a good one.
“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.” Unknown