Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sharing and Listening
By Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.

Have you ever had the experience of sharing your life challenges or problems with an empathic listener who gave you his or her undivided attention? A kind of listener who did not judge you and really cared about what you had to say. Someone who was not quick to give you advice and solutions but was interested to hear how you felt about your life challenges. When I recall my experiences of feeling heard and deeply understood by someone I know how much the experience helped me to cope with whatever I was dealing with at the time. Caring people who I have turned to in difficult times helped me the most by listening and asking about my feelings. By encouraging me to talk about my feelings they gave me opportunity to put words into how I was feeling. Each time I named how I felt inside in relation to what was going on in my life I felt more in control.

During one of my volunteer works at a local HIV and Cancer clinic I found the helpfulness of empathic listening. As a volunteer I was providing emotional support to people with health related problems. Empathic listening really made a difference on how patients felt about their health problems. By sharing about their pain and suffering and my willingness to listen they felt less alone. Feeling alone and facing difficult life challenges can be very painful. Having a witness to life sufferings in the form of an empathic listener can make it less painful. For example, patients who could identify their feelings of fear and vulnerability in relation to their health problems and communicate those feelings began to feel less dominated by fear and vulnerability. By becoming aware of their feelings they felt more mastery over their feelings.

We can make life easier for each other by becoming a better listener and encourage each other to share about our feelings. We can become a better listener by avoid giving advice and trying to problem solve unless we are asked to do so. Pressuring others to solve their life problems "our ways" is not helpful. Most people intuitively know how to solve their own problems. A good listener can help them to access that knowing place that has all the answers. As a listener it’s important to be patient and not interrupt the speaker. Let him or her say what they need to say. Ask helpful questions which help your listener expand on what they need to talk about. Let them know its ok to talk about their feelings and support them in feeling their feelings.

When one does not share nor reach out for support He or she can remain a lonely mystery. Life can feel lonely when one keeps everything inside. Feeling alone with life problems can feel worse than the problem itself. When we let a caring person to listen to our life struggle we no longer feel alone with our struggle. Don’t be afraid asking your loved ones to take time and hear you out. Sometimes you have to ask for it. People cannot read your mind. Confiding in others can have a positive effect on our mood.

Make a conscious decision to inquire about your friends or loved ones on what’s going on in their lives. By showing interest in the life of people you care about you can strengthening your friendships. It’s very simple and yet it can make a big difference in the way you relate to each other.

 For more articles by Dr. Payam, please click on the following link:

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California.

He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon