We are social beings and one of the things that we miss when we create these things in our lives is good quality contact with others. Most contact with other human beings has been found to be good for us, however we also need emotionally intimate contact. We need time to talk and time to listen.
A culture and society are formed by lots of individuals doing similar things. Often this happens through very little conscious thought and planning but more a steady build of social patterns that we all conform to. We have created a culture of busyness and high stimulation. This is not a healthy environment in which human beings thrive because we miss out on some fundamental nourishment that is necessary for quality of life.
Human beings have great intelligence and I would suggest great stupidity as well. We fool ourselves in to thinking that material gain will bring us happiness, we fill our bodies with chemicals, we work too hard, we create stress for ourselves and we addict ourselves to sugar, caffeine, alcohol, porn, drugs, mobile devices, shopping and other things.
As a psychotherapist I spend a lot of time listening to people. I also teach counselling and psychotherapy and spend time training people to listen and really hear what others say. This attuned empathic listening is why counselling works. It is in that space that new connections are made in the brain and clients gain insight, awareness and perspective as well as healthy nourishment for our entire system.
However, we can also do some of this for each other. How often do you make time to really listen to another human being, to understand and to empathise with what is going on for them? How often do you really allow yourself to be honest with others about your life and your struggles? As we make ourselves more and more busy we tend to have less and less emotional intimacy with others.
Truly listening and hearing another takes skill and practice. We have many people who come on our counselling skills course who don’t necessarily want to be counsellors but recognise the benefit of having these skills in all their relationships. I was working as a sales manager and trainer in financial services when I signed up realising that these skills would enhance my work.
Ideally when we are listening to others we put our own Frame of Reference (a concept from Transactional Analysis) to one side to be able to really hear them. This can be difficult as we tend not to see things (or hear things) as they are but as we think they are. I have recently been listening to a debate and noticing how much I agree with the people I like and disagree with those I don’t. This is not necessarily about the points that they are making but about my attitude and my willingness to hear what they have to say.
We need to slow down and allow time and space for ourselves and others.
When listening to others we need to at least be aware of our own agenda and Frame of Reference and to put that aside as much as possible. We need to attune to others and empathise with what its like to be them and see things from their perspective. Basic counselling skills like reflection, summary and paraphrasing can be useful to check our understanding and to let the person know we are hearing them. When we use these basic skills in an attuned relationship something magic happens. The person you are listening too starts to hear themselves! I know that might sound strange but often we think things and say things and don’t fully account them. In a relationship where we are being truly heard we can then account and hear and understand ourselves better.
There is no greater gift that you can give another human being than your full attention and time to talk. It not only enhances their lives but ours as well.
“Time to Talk Day” is a chance for all of us to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives. Wherever you are – at home, at work or up the top of a mountain! – have your conversation about mental health today.