Jun 25, 2020 | Your Relationships
Catherine A. Wood
How I Learned to Make Others Feel Heard and Cared For (Including Myself)
Can we talk REAL TALK for a minute?
Are you practiced in this? Do you even know what I mean?
This past week, I was on the phone with a new friend and I found my mind wandering and realized I couldn’t even pay attention to her.
She was sharing something personal with me and I realized I was downright bored. (Incredibly bored, if I’m being completely honest with you.)
My knee-jerk response was to feel guilty. How could my friend be sharing something heartfelt with me and I couldn’t even find the bandwidth to listen?! I mean, I’ve literally spent tens of thousands of dollars to be trained in just that, in being a masterful listener!
After the initial wave of self-judgment passed (as it naturally does if we offer ourselves some grace, amiright?), I started to get curious…
How could I have 7 years of training in active listening and I couldn’t find it in me to listen to someone I care about share something with me she was personally struggling with?
And that’s when it hit me, she wasn’t being authentic.
She was clearly upset and hurt by what had happened to her at work (at least that’s what I presumed, given the facts she shared with me), but she was unable to name her emotions. I don’t even think she was aware of them. And from the outside looking in, what I realized is my friend was simply angry. She was pissed, in fact.
Even worse, she was self-correcting in the moment, which if you’ve never experienced this, can be downright annoying.
Imagine your best friend just got rear ended on the highway and her bumper crushed. She calls you, with you thinking it is to let off steam, but what she says is (speaking a mile a minute of course)…
“Oh Hi, I just got into a car accident. I got rear ended, but it’s OK. Their car got damaged a lot more than mine. I probably shouldn’t have even been in the passing lane given the speed I was going.”
“And no, we didn’t exchange car insurance information. They didn’t occur like they’d be able to pay for the increase in their insurance premium and it just felt like the right thing to do. And I just felt sooooo bad.”
And your response is “UM, WHAT?!”
It can be exhausting and hurtful to have those types of conversations because now more than ever, we all feel an immense need for REAL TALK and BEING HEARD.
It can be similarly painful to be on the other end of these conversations. When you are the one to experience something painful or hurtful; you try to share it with a loved one; and not only is your experience (and feelings) not validated, but you’re left feeling ignored or uncared for.
Speaking from personal experience, I have been on both ends of this conversation and both are painful.
In the past, when someone has spoken to me inauthentically, I have naturally defaulted to disengaging from the conversation or subconsciously beginning to multitask and make lists in my head of all the things I want to handle just as soon as I get off the call. I’ve also been on enough calls with people who want to sell me on something as well at this point, that I default to offering an icy response and getting off the phone as soon as humanly possible.
But, we MUST stop this!
We, as a collective, are screaming and acting out our need to be heard and our desire for real, raw, and authentic communication.
Regardless of whether you’ve been on the giving or receiving end of this dynamic in your communication, here are 3 practices to try instead the next time you’re craving more vulnerability, authenticity and real talk in your relationships:
- Mutual Responsibility: First of all, know this, neither party is at fault for this dynamic! Many of us have been trained in being inauthentic. For many of us, we have learned that this way of communicating is safe and a way of protecting ourselves, our hearts, and our feelings (which are often very vulnerable to share). Both parties are responsible for modeling authentic communication.
Both parties are responsible for modeling being vulnerable and speaking from and owning our own personal experience. From blaming my friend for her inauthenticity, I might have walked away and prejudged her. From being responsible, I could have owned that I was finding it hard to pay attention and asked her to repeat herself. I could have chosen to re-engage in the conversation, assumed positive intent, and trusted that my friend was being as authentic as she was capable of.
- Self Care: When I published my debut book Belonging earlier this year, I was struck by the chapter that resonated most for readers, the chapter where I shared my morning routine in detail. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that this is the chapter that would resonate most because integrating my morning routine into my life is the single practice that has had the biggest impact on my experience of my life and lifestyle. But what I didn’t understand then that I so clearly see now–is that most of us are disconnected from our needs and from ourselves. We don’t know what we want and we don’t understand how to love and nurture ourselves more. Most of the clients I work with benefit from a healthy and daily dose of self-love and rarely do they have any sense of what this looks like.
Most of us recognize, however, the inherent value of having a morning routine. We understand, at least intellectually, that the way we start our day is oftentimes the way our day goes. And that similarly, when we put on our own gas mask first like we are instructed to do on a plane, we are better prepared to help our neighbors do the same. Committing to a morning routine has been the single greatest practice of self-love in my life and oftentimes in the lives of my clients. When we commit to self-care, we are naturally more present to and connected with our emotions, our experience and able to name them. Similarly, we also have more patience and capacity for meeting our loved ones where they’re at and honoring their own unique experiences.
- Modeling: If you have a somatic response to something another shares with you (maybe you start getting annoyed, hot, or your throat starts to get itchy), consider that you may be feeling something in your body the individual you’re communicating with isn’t yet present to themselves. When my friend shared with me about her situation, I initially tried to quell my own anger and annoyance and instead disassociate from my own feelings (which is exactly what she was doing)! Noticing that, I instead leaned in and named it. I said, “Wow, in hearing your experience, I am noticing I feel angry for you. That’s not fair! You must be pissed.”
In the moment, she was able to get present with her own emotions and name her own anger for herself. In being able to name her emotions, she was able to experience a sense of catharsis which is so readily available for us when we connect with our own emotions. In no longer resisting her emotions, she was able to accept them and accept what happened for what it was, and eventually move forward from an empowered place.
If we are committed to having more authenticity in our lives and in our relationships, it will require us being the ones to change, for ourselves and for our loved ones.
I have so much compassion for you on this journey. I honor you wherever you are in this conversation. It has been a challenging one for me as well. Committing to speaking from the heart, being vulnerable and authentic has also been one of the most affirming and validating lessons I’ve learned.
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