The Healing Act of Listening with Compassion

BC Rain Forest - 2012

Inspired by a blog posted by Oriah at The Green Bough this week on the limitations of “spiritual cheer-leading”, I found myself thinking about the importance of “being heard” and the healing that can happen when we feel that we have been heard.

Over the last few years, when I was going through a really painful time, I became aware, once again, about how few people know how, or are willing, to offer empathetic support in response to someone else’s pain or grief.  When I was terminated from my job 3.5 years ago in a nasty way that was totally unfair, I was disappointed by the response of my family and co-workers.  Not all of them; a few listened empathetically and acknowledged the unfairness of it; and those people really helped me to move on.  But several were quite flippant about it; oblivious to the trauma associated with being terminated; impatient with my desire to understand why it happened; and incapable of understanding my need to have the value of my contribution at that workplace acknowledged privately and publicly.  People wanted me to move on, not as much for me, but for them, because it is painful and uncomfortable to hear about and feel someone else’s pain.

In the 3.5 years since I lost my job, my husband started travelling often, my son left home for college, and my daughter started working or socializing 5 or 6 nights a week.  So, all of a sudden, it seemed, I went from having a life full of family, friends and colleagues to a life devoid of people.  I was trying to find work, trying to come to terms with being treated so badly at my last job, with no one to turn to for emotional support or companionship.  I felt like my life was falling apart, but everywhere I turned, people in my life kept telling me to: “move on”, “get over it”, or “let it go”.  I think they meant well but they did not seem to understand that sometimes the only way to “get over it” is to talk about it until we feel that we have been heard; until we feel that our feelings have been acknowledged; until we feel that we have found some internal resolution.

I remember feeling an incredible sense of relief and gratitude when I said to one friend, “I feel like my life is falling apart”, and she replied by saying, “Well, that is because it IS falling apart”.  That simple act of acknowledging my reality and affirming my feelings helped me to feel less alone and less lonely.  It did not encourage me to wallow in my loneliness; it did not spin me into a fit of despair.  It left me feeling met, seen, cared for, acknowledged.  That simple act allowed me to heal; to feel that my feelings were warranted; to acknowledge the enormity of the changes occurring in my life; to be gentle with myself.

Similarly, when I wrote about my feelings about being terminated and my kids leaving home on this blog, I was touched, comforted and supported by the comments offered by other bloggers who have gone through, or are going through, similar experiences.  It is not that “misery loves company”, it is that all of us wants to feel understood.  We want to know that we are not alone with our feelings; that we are not alone with our grief, pain or fear.   This compassionate listening and sharing of experiences is, in my opinion, an act of love; one that leads to healing at a spiritual and emotional level.  We may not be able to change each other’s circumstances, but we can lessen the pain, grief and fear, or enhance the joy, pleasure and satisfaction, in each other’s lives by hearing each other with open minds and loving hearts.

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About kp

I am a woman and a mother, a sister and a wife. I have called myself a socialist and a feminist, an environmentalist and an activist, a pagan and an atheist. But, at this stage in my life, none of these labels feel right. I am searching; trying to find an inner calm; trying to make peace with life's disappointments; trying to answer the big questions in my own small life.
This entry was posted in Healing & Compassion, Inspiration, Job Termination, Relationships, Spirituality, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Healing Act of Listening with Compassion

  1. Sharing in another’s pain or joy is helping bond with that person.. We are each connected even though in today’s modern day of thinking we feel we are separate and going through our own experiences alone…
    We all of us need to share.. and feel needed, wanted, and we crave to be listened to and understood…
    I know through my own past redundancies at various points throughout my life as firms closed or sent work overseas.. that feeling of rejection hits hard. and you feel like you are the only one going through it and those whose lives are not falling apart don’t seem to understand…

    Listening is an art.. and not many unfortunately LISTEN these days, they are all too full of their own woe is me’s and are wanting our own sympathy ..

    But throughout all our trials and tribulations we learn to grow and I know from all of mine, and there have been many, I have learnt also to nurture myself more.. Learning to love ourselves more helps us to see our ways past the pain and hurts, We learn to value the Joy and Happy moments.. and we heal.. But in order to do that, We need to heal ourselves from within… Sharing our thoughts and feelings are all part of that Healing process Kim… and I am happy to share your journey with you :-)

    • kp says:

      Thanks Sue…healing really is a many layered experience…and the understanding and support of others really can be very helpful to that process. Kim

  2. this is so very true. when i was going through IVF and lost 7 babies, one friend said “that sucks” and that was the most healing thing for me. everyone else around us at the time were giving religious answers.

  3. Ellen says:

    ‘It is not that “misery loves company”, it is that all of us wants to feel understood.’

    Exactly. I’m glad you found some compassionate responses during that tough time. I find in the blogging world also, some only talk ‘good news’, looking at the positive, etc etc. It doesn’t help me. We need compassion for all of life, and it’s up to all of us to try to give that, because we all need it.

  4. Jess says:

    Profound post! I don’t think we know how to listen correctly and more. I am glad that you have posted this for us to connect with.

  5. What a beautiful post. You’re so right Kim, that feeling of validation gets us much further than simplistic observations to “move on”. Thank you for writing this. Love… Chatte

  6. Hi Kim, this is a really lovely post. I want to print out these lines: “This compassionate listening and sharing of experiences is, in my opinion, an act of love; one that leads to healing at a spiritual and emotional level. We may not be able to change each other’s circumstances, but we can lessen the pain, grief and fear, or enhance the joy.” So true.

    I will always be grateful to one friend who supported me through my divorce. She had the ability to hold a space for me, to hear me when I was grieving, frightened, angry… No matter what came up for me, she could handle it. I had other friends who I know cared just as deeply for me, but who couldn’t do the same thing. I think that you’re right that not everyone can face certain kinds of pain.

    (And that’s a beautiful photo, too!)

    • kp says:

      It is wonderful to have friend, lover or family member who can do that for us….I have found the loneliest times of my life to be those when there was no one around me who could hold that place. Kim

  7. That act of acknowledgment is so so powerful. Not sure about you, but I find my own inner voice tells me enough to ‘get over it’ – we don’t need to hear it from others, as well. Hearing that someone ‘gets it’, gives us the chance to give ourselves a break and realise it’s okay to feel what we are going through. Thank you for sharing this – it’s very touching.

  8. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Hey, I read your ‘about’ and you know,

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