Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Will You Please Just Listen?

I've had a problem with listening to people in the past. Well, actually, I would consider myself a very good listener; that is, at first. All sorts of different people have come up to me and started talking to me and tell me how comfortable they are talking to me. I think it's because I genuinely invest myself in their conversations. The problem I have is when people come to me with a problem--I jump in and start offering my opinion on things.

Now that might be good for people who are actively seeking an opinion from an outside source. But what about those people that just need someone to listen to them? They have a heart that is so heavy, and their burden so big that they most probably just want to be heard. I'm crying right now because that's exactly how I feel right now.

I'm under a lot of stress. Obviously school is a hard time for everyone, and maybe this is just one of those run-of-the-mill times when I'm going to get stressed out and have to push through. But being the person I am, I need someone to listen to me. I want some empathy, not sympathy.

"I know exactly how you feel..." What an overused sentence. And what an incredible over-generalization. I mean really? You've had the exact same experiences as that person to know exactly how emotionally charged this situation is to them and why? You've formed the exact same emotional pathways for neurotransmitters to create the same brain chemistry? You come from the same culture, ethnic group, and gender? Well, I suppose if you answered yes to all of these, then you are either an exact clone of someone, or you're so naive as to think that you actually know exactly how someone feels.

I know that sounds harsh. And I know people have good intentions when they use that phrase. But I've made it a point to never say that. When my brother died, I never heard that phrase. It was one of the first instances in my life where people would tell me they didn't know what to say. It was a relief! It was nice to hear that they didn't understand--which I then assume is an opportunity to help them understand. Together we can create a mutual bonding, and empathic experience where an understanding is shared, even if it isn't *exactly* what the other person is feeling.

Ahem...so where was I...? Oh yes. I need someone to listen to me right now. Some would call it whining. I would call it an adequate utilization of a technique to cope with stress. And since I am the counselor, I am right. So there.

Today has been a day of people not listening. More specifically, tonight has been one of those nights. I say something to the effect of, "I'm feeling really overwhelmed," and immediately I am expected to come forward with coping mechanisms and strategies so that being overwhelmed is no longer an issue.

We are in such a quick-fix society and it drives me crazy sometimes! Ya I'm overwhelmed, but don't you think that jumping on me and giving me advice on all these ways of not feeling overwhelmed is going to make me feel *more* overwhelmed?

Well, it does. So now I guess I'll get to what is actually bothering me instead of trying to critique all of my social interactions. I'll have plenty of time to do that as a therapist.

Therapist--what is that? I'm sure there's a different definition depending on the person you ask! I'm trying to figure out what that is myself, and that is what is overwhelming.

Some people think of being a therapist as a "soft" job. Something that really doesn't take too much time, effort, or skill to be good at. First of all, when I hear people who think that way I'm hurt. I wouldn't dedicate so many years of my life to something that's easy. I am in it to better myself and those around me.

Secondly, now that I'm actually studying counseling and how it all works, I am amazed at the complexity of it. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone in which you had to pay attention to the details of the message, get a clear picture of the emotions behind it, think of a theoretical orientation that applies to this situation, think of a follow-up question or response that takes into account that theoretical orientation, keep in mind the legal implications of the advice or response you give, make sure that you are showing enough empathy as to make that person feel accepted and safe, and being multiculturally in-tuned enough as to not create micro aggressions or prejudices? Ya, me neither...

But now I have to! It's absolutely exhausting! I find my brain spinning non-stop. I am encouraged to pick myself apart and analyze pretty much everything I do. I am expected to be open, honest, and secure enough with myself to bring forward my insecurities in front of PhD professors, and classmates, and change my deeply held beliefs and opinions. It is a lot to take in and I am just so tired.

It feels so much better to put this out there.

I would encourage everyone to take a little more time in their interactions with people. Of course there isn't enough time to have a full-blown therapy session with someone. But I'm sure you can make the time to hear them out. Maybe they don't even want your advice. It's time to put the ego aside and listen. That's something that I've struggled to do, but I would dare to say that it's greatly strengthened my relationships.

Thank you for listening.