Ep. 02 Listening with Love: The Problem with Feeling Unseen and Unheard

There are the moments in life when there are no words to express the pain we feel collectively in our souls. Young children dying in an act of violence is one of those times. “LISTEN” is the word I hear playing in my head, like a demand, over and over. Allow people to express their feelings and thoughts without cutting them off. STOP, trying to sweep people’s pain under the rug. STOP, trying to fix them when the path to getting through it is to let it out.

When people don’t feel seen and heard, BAD THINGS HAPPEN: addiction, violence, abuse, overeating, not eating, mental health disorders, spiritual crisis, violent prejudice attacks, attention-seeking behaviors, and the list goes on. When we don’t feel seen or heard we each have the ability to become a victim or a perpetrator of suffering.

It can be easy to see where others play these roles, but often we neglect to look inward. We refuse to look at the damage we do to ourselves through our own negative self-talk, self-abuse, and self-neglect. There is an underlying shame that keeps us trying to numb and control our own feelings, because they don’t feel safe, so with that we offer the same unhealthy processing tools to others.

Encouraging people to suck it up, think positive, have a drink, take a toke, pop a pill, or go shopping isn’t going to make anyone feel seen and heard on a soul level. They are all just Bandages covering up gaping wounds. None of those things are examples of us listening with love. We just feel uncomfortable with their pain. We try to cover it up so that we don’t have to see it. How can we be available to show up for someone else’s pain when we are constantly trying to hide from our own? This is a question I’ve been asking myself.

I’m not just saying this for the people who are reading and/or listening to this episode. I’m saying it to and for myself. I’m doing this series because I feel a wake-up call to show up and listen. I’m observing what is keeping me from listening with love.  I WANT to get better at helping people feel seen and heard, because that is what I CAN DO! I’m not capable of changing other people’s behaviors or beliefs, but I CAN show-up with compassion. I CAN shut my mouth and listen! I CAN ask questions instead of insisting on my own way. Before I go any further, I want to mention that healthy boundaries are ESSENTIAL for me to do this. I know when I’m not the right person for the job. If a situation feels toxic to my well-being, I know it’s not serving anyone for me to be there, whether it’s in that moment or in general. It’s important that I trust my intuition when I feel it’s best to walk away.

When people have a healthy sense of self, they don’t look past the humanity in another person. Someone is dealing with inner pain if they are taking their suppressed rage or self-hate out on another person, place, or thing. It’s not their anger that is the problem. If they knew how to express their anger in a healthy way, they would. The problem is many of us don’t know, so we shove it down or spin stories in our heads and to others to the point where we are ticking time bombs.

Let me clarify, feelings a different than stories. Stories are based in our thoughts, beliefs, actions, responses, and reactions to the world around us. If we are in the energy of love, abundance, and peace, our stories reflect that. If we are in the energy of fear, lack, and separation, our stories reflect that.

Everyone has feelings no matter what energy they are in. We can feel sad, angry, hurt, etc., and not get lost in the drama of a story we or others are weaving. We can feel grief, and not get trapped in a story about us being forever without. What matters is where our energy is at the time. Feelings are healthy when they are attended to. When they aren’t, they hold a charge in our bodies that can cause destruction to our own health, and then explode on the people whose experiences tap into any part of our suppressed pain.

I know self-awareness is the key to helping others feel seen and heard. This means, I have to be able to see and hear myself first. I recently got a clear example of how this affects people when I was called to jury duty. I had NO idea the amount of feelings I was still carrying around with me over past events until jury selection. The case had to do with alleged illegal gun possession.

As the lawyers were talking and asking questions, I felt my chest starting to constrict and my eyes starting to tear. My stomach felt like it was flipping over and over. I kept shutting my eyes taking long deep breaths. My body was warning me. I wasn’t capable of listening with love in this moment, because I was doing everything in my power to keep myself together. There is no way I could see the situation without bias because in my head I was not present at all.

My head bounced from my friend who got shot in high school, to another boy who shot himself at a party, to my interview with Fred Guttenberg and his explanation of how his son heard the gun shots likely to have killed his sister in the Parkland, FL shootings. Then I remember the screaming and terrified children as we all ran when someone yelled, “RUN, GUN!” I was reliving the terror of not being able to find my daughter. As heavy as all that was, I had an even more painful memory just under it all. When one of the lawyers asked something about if any of the potential jurors had any experiences with gun violence that could affect them on this jury, I raised my hand.

The lawyer had me list why, and I started down the list. I could feel all the eyes on me. I didn’t even tell them how in February 2020, my friend’s son was shot by his father and how the father then killed himself. I wouldn’t have been able to sit through another second if those feelings started bubbling up.

Between the thoughts running through my head taking me back to traumatic times, and my physical reaction to the talk of illegal gun possession, I knew it wouldn’t be fair of me to participate as a juror. My listening with love in this situation was acknowledging that the defendant’s story was not mine. I TRIED not to look at him through my personal experience, but let me tell you, I was just doing everything not to throw up.

If I wasn’t self-aware, my words could have caused harm. I wasn’t the right person in this situation to be present and listen, let alone listen with love. I still had work to do in order to process what was coming up for me. This experience was mine and it affected my ability to listen to someone else. The point is I KNEW IT, and didn’t pretend that I could show up when I wasn’t capable of doing it at the time. My visceral reaction had to do with trauma that was still stuck inside me. I can’t listen with love if I’m focused on my own trauma. I trusted that there was a better person to listen in that case.

Even me saying these words can land on someone who feels the need to start defending their stance, but that is their stuff—not mine. If someone has a reaction to me bringing up gun violence the way I did, that’s about their inability to listen with love based on the stories that are playing in their head. When we feel an urge to go off on people for sharing their personal experiences, we are not listening with love. In that moment, we aren’t capable of listening with love because we are so wrapped up in the stories in our heads, we can’t see or hear the person in front of us. We get a choice, we can react in fear and explode our crap onto someone else, or we can take some space to realize now is not the time to listen or comment.  One of the things I ask myself when someone does choose to attack me is, “Can I respond to this person from a loving place?” If I can’t, I find it’s best for me to say nothing, because I know if I do, I’m going down to the energy of fear, lack, and separation with them, and I don’t like how that feels inside of me. I really try to avoid going there as much as I can.

I often see people lost in the energy of fear, lack, and separation on social media. Instead of asking questions to get a further understanding of someone’s perspective, some people will launch into attack mode and make something that was very personal into an attack on beliefs that are different than theirs. They forget the humanity of the person who shared an intimate truth. No wonder so many people are scared to express their feelings.

Though my experience as a potential juror showed me my limitations in that moment, those same traumatic experiences opened me up in the ways I have been able to integrate the past pain into being more present with survivors.  Now, I’m capable of listening to people who experienced trauma with compassion and empathy. I KNOW the importance of survivors talking and feeling through what comes up for them. Whether they were the ones waiting for the call to hear that a loved one was safe, or they were someone who experienced a traumatic event first hand, it’s important that they feel seen and heard. My hope is that people going through this have someone who will listen with love. People who are secure enough in their own selves to see and hear another’s pain without shutting them down.

FEELING our feelings is the key to set us free in order to consciously help another feel seen and heard. If our own suffering is being triggered, we won’t be able to see and hear someone else’s. If we are caught up in our own stories about race, politics, violence, abuse, religion, upbringing, etc., they will keep us from being able to actively listen to the person in front of us.  When we are still triggered, we don’t see someone else’s suffering separate from what we’ve been through, and it CAN BE different.

Even if there are similar circumstances, how they are processing their pain will be based in their past thoughts, beliefs, feelings, experiences, education, and upbringing. We don’t know all the things that are going into how they will process what happened to them, even if something similar happened to us.  I’m talking to myself here because I’m aware of how I do this with the people I’m closest to, and I want to do better.

Next week, I’ll be talking about what we can do for ourselves when we don’t feel seen and heard. Because remember, seeing and hearing our own needs is ESSENTIAL to be able to be there for anyone else.

Thank you for joining me for another episode of Listening with Love. I hope you come back to join me again next week!

With Love and Gratitude,

Rachael Wolff

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