About a year ago I read an article that popped up on Facebook. The article was about the importance of listening. Just listening. Not cheering people up, not offering advice or feedback, not relating to people. Just listening.
This article completely re-framed how I approach supporting my friends.
What stuck with me most was not trying to cheer people up. When someone comes to you for support, to lean on you through a hard time, to tell you about their depression or stress or sorrow, don’t try to cheer them up. That trying to cheer someone up actually pushes them away. When someone is down and you focus on bringing them up, they don’t feel supported or heard. They may even feel guilty for having the feelings they have. And next time they feel this way, they won’t come to you.
“Things will get better”, “Look on the bright side”, “Think of all the other great things going on”. All of these seem like kind things to say. But in actuality, they are the worst things to tell someone in pain.
The kindest thing you can do for someone who comes to you for support: live in that moment with them. Hold their hand. Say things like “that sucks” or “that sounds really difficult”. Validate the feelings they are expressing, rather than trying to change them to nicer feelings.
I always thought of myself as a good listener, and a good friend. But I was definitely the friend that wanted to cheer you up, make you feel better, think positive. This concept opened my eyes to all of the moments I was probably missing.
I do believe it is human nature to want to make things better. When babies cry we want to find a way to make it stop. When someone scuffs their knee we find a band-aid. So sitting in a moment and allowing things to go unfixed feels counter intuitive. It feels against human nature to not fix someone when they are in pain.
And yet, it also makes sense. When I am upset I don’t want answers, I don’t want rainbows, I don’t want solutions. I just want to be listened to.
So, I started listening. I stopped offering advice, offering solutions, I stopped looking on the bright side. When friends opened up to me I listened. I told them how hard that sounded, how stressful that must be, how sorry I was to hear they were going through that.
And I’ve found many magical moments to connect with people because of it. By listening, just listening, I have learned so much more about the people I love. And I am so grateful to live in those moments with them.