Listening is an Art - How to Make Someone Feel Truly Supported
Showing up for others is no easy task. When you care about someone, it can be hard to see them hurting–you might even go to great lengths to ease their pain. Although the desire to erase another’s pain may come from a loving place, it can actually cause more harm than good.
What if I told you that the most helpful thing we can do is to sit with another person in their pain rather than trying to free them of their pain? When we rush to fix another’s painful situation, it usually comes from our own discomfort, and it can imply that we don’t believe the person can solve their own problems. This can feel more disempowering than helpful.
So how do you master the art of truly supporting someone who is struggling?
1. Try not to immediately problem solve
It makes sense to want to take the person’s pain away, and sometimes it just isn’t feasible to do so. Before trying to problem solve, it can be helpful to focus on what the person is experiencing. Giving the person space to feel their feelings inadvertently shows them that you care about their feelings and are a safe person to express them with.
2. Always ask instead of assuming how another person is thinking and feeling
Assuming what or how another person is feeling may, at that moment, create more distance between you and the person. By checking in and asking the person questions like “Am I getting that correctly?” or “Does that sound right to you?”, you are communicating to them that they are the expert in themselves, which can be extremely validating.
3. Don’t allow not knowing what to say to lead you to do nothing
It’s natural to want to have the perfect response. To cut to the chase: there is no perfect response and there never will be. When we become so mentally wrapped up in communicating perfectly, it can cause us to feel paralyzed and avoid showing up at all.
4. Resist the urge to try and immediately relate to the person and/or tell them what you would do if you were in their shoes
Engaging in self-disclosure by sharing about a time you felt similarly may be helpful in some cases; however, it shifts the focus off of the person and onto ourselves, which runs the risk of frustration and invalidation. It’s best to refrain from bringing ourselves into the conversation when tending to another person’s pain.
Supporting others is not in the words so much as being there. People won’t always remember what you say but will remember how they felt in your presence. Sometimes the most therapeutic thing we can do for another is to acknowledge, welcome, and embrace them in their pain.
If you or a loved one is in crisis, a list of AZ and national crisis hotlines can be found here: azahcccs.gov/BehavioralHealth/crisis.html