Just listen – even though it’s hard.

We are obsessed with trying to fix problems. Especially with our children.

Have you noticed that when your child gets upset or scared that you leap in with advice or try and fix their problem? 

Have you noticed that when YOU are upset or scared that you dislike it when someone tries to fix you?

I’m keenly aware that I would much rather someone just listen to me. When I can speak freely about my fears, anger or frustrations without someone trying to fix me it’s a precious gift. There is something very special about getting our private and troubling thoughts out in the open with someone who can simply hold the space and listen without reacting. 

The process of speaking my thoughts and expressing my emotions helps to shift my perspective. I shift into the observer of these thoughts and feelings  – I hear them and “see” them for what they are. They are passing through my head like clouds coming over the sun and they are not who I am. Most of the thoughts that cause me distress are about a past that isn’t happening any more. All of the fears are about a future that is hypothetical.

When I get my thoughts out into the open they gradually lose their grip on me and the realisation dawns that I don’t have to believe them. 

Watching a wave of fear

I experienced a wave of fearful thoughts this morning after I woke up. Looking at FB for 30 minutes certainly didn’t help. There were lots of fears about my safety, security and comfort. There were fears about catching the virus and not being able to breathe. The terror of imagining myself in a hospital ICU. There were fears about losing more freedom through government controls. Then I got scared that my husband’s depression will return and I’ll be stuck here living with the “black dog.” I had the thought of a future without affection or care. 

What a load! I was fortunate that my husband was available and willing to listen. I spoke my fears and felt the emotion fully. I cried as he hugged me. He said nothing. At some point an awareness appeared that these thoughts were about an imagined future. Each thought was silently questioned. And then the thoughts and feelings passed, I wiped my eyes and calm returned to my day. 

The gift of silent listening

I have made it a practice for many years to give the gift of silent listening to my children. It takes practice because I’ve found the habit of giving advice and trying to fix is a hard one to break. I focus on noticing the things I say out of habit and remind myself to shut my mouth when they appear. 

Over the years it’s become very clear what a wonderful gift silent listening can be. There have been countless times that I have listened silently to my sons scream, cry, swear and vent their feelings. Most times these outbursts of expression are intense but short-lived. They pass like a loud but brief thunderstorm and leave only clear, calm energy in their wake. The thoughts and feelings are released out of hiding, they are seen and heard and then they leave.

There is no judgement, no lectures and no blame. Instead, there is a gradual growing of self-awareness.

Witnessing the storms of scary thought and intense emotion arise and subside in my children has made it clear how few of our thoughts need to be believed. Because they share their thoughts with me openly in an unfiltered way we all get to hear them and to realise, at some point, that they aren’t true. Some thoughts, especially fears, come up repeatedly and often, but eventually they give up and go away if there is nothing for them to hook into. 

When I listen in silence I’m not agreeing with the scary, stressful thoughts. I’m not fighting them and I’m not confirming that there is a problem by trying to fix it. So there is nothing to feed the fears or to hook them into a dialogue that would keep them alive. 

The more I give this gift to my children, the more I can give it to myself. I am dissolving my obsessive habit of trying to fix and improve myself too. Instead, I listen to the stressful thoughts appear, they are seen for what they are and they leave without being believed. 

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