“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”
Karl A. Menninger
“Help! That is what I’ve wanted to shout for most of my life. But I didn’t. I continued to suppress all my negativity, hurt and ill-will towards self. All this suppression resulted in bubbling to the surface self-destruction in the most in-opportune times. I believed that I didn’t deserve the happiness and successes that I did achieve. I never received guidance on how to deal with the positive things in life, I only learned anger, only felt the focus on negatives. Yes, I grew up in era where you suffered your pain in silence. You were never encouraged to share what you were feeling or missing. My soul is full…of all the wrong things. I needed help in digging through my fractured soul; to come to terms with the fact that “I am a good person and I’m allowed to feel good about myself and my life.”
A lot of years have passed in my life. A lot of years wasted suppressing my feelings.
As I’m sure you’ve heard many times before, to embark on such a journey of laying bare your pain is a very private and difficult decision.
Initially his wife reached out to us:
“Would you meet with my husband? He really needs to talk.”
She described how it would work best with him. It needed to be very private, not in a coffee shop or any public place. He wanted to talk at night, because after sharing what he needed to share he just wanted the day to be over. What he had to say could not be rushed; he was going to need a lot of time to bring it all out.
He needed to set the time and place, the circumstances and conditions to talk. Feeling so out of control, he needed – desperately – to have some control over the way his secrets would be revealed. So we let him have that control. He needed its safety, its solace.
Setting those parameters, it was important for us to recognize, was what he needed. We had to listen beyond the fears, to hear what he was really saying.
All the years of holding it in, his default position, made it very difficult for him to share. It took him an hour just to feel comfortable and trusting of us before he could get to the heart of the matter. And when, like a volcano, his emotions erupted to the surface and he realized that he had to begin to talk about what was going on inside, he was reluctant to do so. Very hesitant. But he knew that with this eruption, the time had finally come and that he couldn’t hide his past any longer.
The following day he wrote us a message. He detailed what it was that helped him to open up with us:
Our openness – to hearing all that he had to say and not prescribing how and where we had to meet, but allowing him to be met in the way that would be most comfortable.
Our truthfulness – not allowing him to continue buying into the lie that he is no good, but instead reminding him that no matter what he is worthy of being heard.
Our patience – giving him the time he needed to come to reveal the essence of his secrets, being sensitive to not pushing him to go faster than he could.
Our understanding – reminding him that we are human too, that we know what it’s like to be scared, to feel shame, to disclose something that others may react to unkindly.
Our non-judgmental response – it’s not our job to point out other’s flaws and weaknesses. We believe that as humans we believe we need to have grace with one another, knowing that all of us wrestle with loneliness and pain in one way or another.
He concluded by writing:
Thank you so much for meeting with me last night. You made the intimidating opening of my soul a calm process that I believe I can trust.
“As I’m sure you’ve heard many times before, to embark on such a journey of laying bare your pain is a very private and difficult decision.
“When I arrived home last night, my wife asked how I felt. I responded that I felt more at peace than I ever have in my life.
What a moment to realize that all I needed was someone I could tell it to. Thank you both for being that someone.
“… opening up and feeling better …”
He concluded that we made him feel:
“… comfortable in talking about what is hurting…what is troubling…what is causing internal conflict.
That we gave help to understand that he is not alone. That help can be had by sharing.”
Safety. We need that, all of us. If we are to open our souls, if we are to allow others into our pain and insecurities, if we are to acknowledge honestly our vulnerabilities, we need safety. We need others to listen who will not condemn us for the secrets we reveal. We need others to meet us where we are without judgment or condemnation. We need others who will walk with us in our darkness, to help us find our light.
Without that safety, most of us won’t reveal our true selves. Without that safety, few of us will allow the light to penetrate our darkness. Without that safety, it is painfully hard to heal.
We need others who will make us feel comfortable in talking with them about what is hurting…what is troubling…what is causing internal conflict. We need others to help us understand that we are not alone, that help can be had by sharing.