When Listening becomes Listless: Troubleshooting The Empathic Ear

As sensitives, we tend to be good listeners. We find it easy to tune in to others, notice subtle cues and give our undivided attention to what someone is saying. Thich Nath Hanh once said that if only more people would truly listen to others, there wouldn’t be such a great need for therapists.

On the flip side. What happens to those of us who do listen? In Psychology Today Sophia Dembling talks about how good listening can be exhausting to practice. (article: here). I agree with her there. But is going off to lala-land while someone is sharing the story-of-their-life the real solution?

For the introverts among us, it is good to remember that listening and talking require a distinct different set of awareness. To listen, we need to relax into and allow whatever it is that is showing up. Very mellow and meditative. To speak, we need to perk up, actively putting together a train of thought. Flipping that switch is the reason why, after long speeches, there are often few questions from the audience. It’s kind of like jumping on your bicycle after a soothing nap. It takes a transition…

So, how to make that transition? When we feel overwhelmed by our own superior listening skills and the surround-sound of someone else’s story becomes too much, what to do?

First, create a transition zone. Taking a step back (literally and figuratively) and going off to lala-land are excellent first moves. Remind yourself that you have a choice here.

Second, switch off your energetic empathy. Your what?? Your energetic empathy. Find that part of you that is emotionally logged on to the conversation. It’s the magnetic X-factor that stimulates the unending wordflow. For, usually, what we all need, is not to share our story per sé. What we truly need, the reason we start a conversation, is to feel heard. When we feel heard and understood, we want more, and so we keep talking. Sound familiar?

Ultimately, if people seem to need endless validation, they have inner work to do. No amount of our listening will fill that void. So stop trying!

Third, breaking the energetic connection will naturally end most conversations. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to speak up. Perhaps you need to go somewhere, want to use the bathroom, or are just plain tired. Choose whichever explanation seems most natural, and leave. Alternatively, if you want to have a go at sharing your story, actively change the topic!

Meanwhile, feel free to indulge in those wonderfully nourishing listening-exchanges. The ones where you revel in the connection with the other person. We want to honour this gift, and also prevent it from turning stale.

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