Empathy: presence without pressure
Find out more about online empathy sessions here.
As a child and teenager, I longed to be listened to, without being judged, without receiving advice, without being interrogated, without comparisons to someone else’s children, without hearing frightening analyses of what happens to “people like me”. At a family dinner when I was already about thirty years old, I ended up in tears, feeling very sad, and remember saying: “I just want you to listen to me”. It was only then that I became fully aware of how important this need was to me. Growing up, no adults in my life were able to listen to me in that way: when they heard my struggles, they tried to fix me. They felt uncomfortable with not doing, unable to just be present or be with me in silence. The message I got was: you’re not okay, it’s not ok, be very worried.
Empathic listening requires the listener to sink into a deep sense of trust, trust that within this person I am listening to, lie all the answers she will ever need, trust that the answers will come at the right time. Trust creates safety. I didn’t feel safe sharing what was most important to me with the adults around me, so I only shared it with my peers.
In order to truly listen, we need to be in the present, in the here and now. If not, how can we hear the other? We will only hear through the filters of our thinking and judgmental mind. Empathy and presence are felt in the heart. Listening is just being and sharing that “beingness”, sharing those moments of togetherness with another. There is nothing to do. It reassures me that I am not alone, that I matter. My life feels richer, has meaning and purpose because somebody cares enough to listen. I feel seen and heard and acknowledged. Mirroring back to me shows me that I have been truly heard and also gives me a chance to reflect. But sometimes silence is called for, and space between the words.
When I am in the presence of another person, engaged in empathic listening, I am more present in the here and now. The other’s presence helps me to remain engaged, their physical presence reminds me when I am falling into thinking about past or future. It helps me to stay in the moment, otherwise I will miss what they are saying. I will miss the moment. So it is such a gift, a gift to the listener as well as the one being listened to . It helps me to stay alert, conscious, with attention to detail, to stay mindful and connected to my own feelings and needs. Sometimes the interaction between listener and listenee triggers feelings in me.
Listening for feelings and needs in the other gives me a focus as a listener. If I am the one being listened to, it is also useful for me, as it helps me to stay connected to the present. I connect with what’s alive in me, instead of going into stories about the past or worries about the future. Feelings point like markers to needs. Needs take us to creative solutions.
“The Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu stated that true empathy requires listening with the whole being: The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of
the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind.” ¬ Marshall Rosenberg
By Samantha Misty Wittenberg
Samantha means Listener (in Hebrew) and listening has been an integral part of her work as a counsellor, teacher, lawyer and facilitator.
Language that Works is offering Online Empathic Listening sessions as a way to support you to be heard and understood, receive empathy or gain clarity for a difficult situation. It is also more convenient to arrange as there is no need to travel to us.