I remember being sixteen and coming home past curfew after my very first boyfriend had broken up with me. My dad came into my room, probably ready to lay down the law, and found me in tears. He sat down beside me and asked what had happened. I told him and I’ll never forget how he responded. He put his hand over his heart and said;
“It hurts right here doesn’t it?”
I nodded. Yes, my heart hurt.
Why do I still remember that? It was literally half of my lifetime ago. The more I think about it, the more I realize that moments like that are so very rare.
He listened to me.
My feelings were validated instead of being dismissed as teen angst. I was experiencing the most universal feeling in the world; heartbreak. But he never once told me that he’d been through the “exact same thing”. (Can two different people ever really experience something exactly the same way?)
He didn’t share his own break-up stories though I’m sure he had a few to tell. Amazingly (because he’s a man) he didn’t even try to “fix it” by offering advice, though he had wisdom that was beyond my years.
No, he didn’t do any of that. He just sat with me. I felt heard, understood, and supported.
When is the last time you felt that way?
As a new mom, I can say that those moments are few and far between so I’m just going to come right out and say it: People don’t know how to listen to each other anymore.
We can’t seem to squash our self-serving need to share our own experiences. We don’t see the hurting human in front of us telling their story; we only see an opportunity to insert ourselves into that story.
There are days on this motherhood journey, which I’ve only just begun, that I just need to express how hard all of this is. (I have one of those babies that doesn’t sleep well, I think that’s why God made him extra cute.)
I need to vent. But I’m not looking for advice. (I’ve finally learned that if you don’t want unsolicited advice, don’t vent about it on Facebook. Always a bad idea anyways but sleep deprivation impairs judgement! I have actually deleted the app off of my phone to remove the temptation to post at the peaks of frustration.)
Yes, I need an occasional outlet. But I don’t want to be dismissed. Please don’t tell a struggling person that “it’s just a phase” or “this too shall pass”. They already know that. It’s simply not helpful.
And, at the risk of sounding rude, I don’t want to hear someone else’s story while I’m trying to tell mine.
Sharing isn’t always caring.
To be clear, I’ve been just as guilty as the next person of making it all about me when I should have been listening with an open heart. We all do it and we’ve all had it done to us. It took the vulnerability of motherhood to make me see how hurtful this little habit can be. Often the worst offenders are those closest to you.
While I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I am passionate about personal growth – at any time of year. So in 2018 I am committing to be a better listener for my friends and family. Bad habits are hard to break and I know it will take a lot of self-awareness and even self-restraint. But it’s worth the effort because I want to give someone a reason to look back on a hard time in their life and remember how I made them feel, the way I remember that interaction with my dad so many years ago.
As quoted by the great Maya Angelou;
“When you know better, you do better.”
If you want to join me in this quest, try this:
When you listen, just listen.
Maybe ask a follow up question. But whatever you do; don’t dismiss with some flippant comment and don’t offer unsolicited advice. You’ll know if it becomes appropriate to share your own experience because they’ll ask. More often than not, they probably just want to be heard and supported while they figure it out for themselves.
The truth is, we have everything to gain by becoming better listeners. Our “need to share” comes from a place of selfishness. Yet if we just take the time to give one another a true listening ear, I think we’ll find that it comes back to us. Maybe not in that moment but when we need it to, when it’s our turn. It’s this give and take that makes relationships stronger.
Better relationships in 2018? That’s motivation enough for me.