Commentary – Listening with intention is a gift

Pearl Lorentzen

Jan. 26 is Bell Let’s Talk Day. The goal is to initiate conversations about mental health.
This year, the commercials have upset people being approached by others who say, “I’m here.”
Which is a lovely thought, but I kept remembering the commercials as “I’m listening.”
Both of which are simple, valid and useful responses to someone in pain.
Listening is meaningful gift we can give each other, without spending a dime. Especially, when we listen with intention.
I have a third [possibly fourth] cousin who when he was little would put his tiny hands on your face and turn you so you were looking straight at him when he told a story. He wanted your undivided attention. If I recall, he wasn’t using real words yet, but he understood the value of being heard.
In my experience, active listening doesn’t come easily. It is a learned skill. It is much easier to demand someone else’s attention, than it is to give someone your undivided attention. Listening well is important.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. includes information about active listening in its Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers. It includes four steps:
1 . Give your full attention;

  1. Stop what you are doing and make eye contact;
  2. “Get down on your child’s level” [not quite as easily applicable to adults];
  3. Echo what they are saying.
    Echoing doesn’t have to be word for word. Sometimes summarizing what you hear is helpful. This can also include nodding and other forms of non-verbal communication. The important thing is to be engaged.
    The same thing goes with the “I’m here” response. Sometimes just being with another person can help alleviate their pain.
    One of the things I’ve learned is some people like to be hugged when they are in pain and others don’t. This also depends on your relationship with the person and – at the moment – COVID. Being with the person and listening are things which can be done over the phone or via video chat. It’s not quite the same, but can have much the same benefits.
    Silences, even awkward ones, can be important. When you notice someone is in pain, take your cues from them. Be there. Be present. Be kind.
    One other thing about being intentional with helping others is remembering to take care of yourself. When people are in pain, sometimes they lash out. If they are abusive, leave.
    It is also important to establish healthy boundaries. It is OK to say no. If people are demanding too much, step back.
    It’s also OK to pause the conversation. You can say things like, “I want to continue this conversation, but for right now I need a break.” This can be a short break in the conversation or longer. Sometimes it can be with the person or sometimes you’ll want to leave and be alone.
    Self-care and finding ways to process your own emotions after helping someone else are also very important. Journaling and going for walks are two ways that help me identify and work through my emotions. Colouring, crocheting, reading, and cooking are some of the positive activities that I do for self-care.
    May you find what is best for you!

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