THE LONG HAUL CAN BE A VERY LONG TIME : LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CONTEXT OF COMPLEX CHRONIC ILLNESS.
What is the difference between being listened to and not?
You absolutely know - you feel it in your guts - when someone has not listened to or heard what you have actually been saying.
To be heard brings a sense of rightness, of flow, of acceptance, of peace, relief even.
An inner certainty arises from the connection made, when you feel truly that the person has listened fully to you, comprehended your meaning and heard what you have said, even if what you are saying is uncomfortable, challenging or difficult to relate to.
To listen, really listen, is a very special gift to give another person.
The opposite can be extremely hurtful or dismissive. Not listening shuts down communication and breaks any connection that might have been possible.
It leaves the speaker feeling bewildered, shunned, shut out, discounted, disregarded, disrespected, isolated, even unsafe. At worst it is demolishing and utterly alienating.
The skill of listening is extremely important, but one that not everyone necessarily pays enough attention to or knows how to do well or at all.......
So what does it feel like not to be listened to by the different people in your life?
To not be listened to runs the risk of your illness not being correctly diagnosed. It can lead to your health issues being misinterpreted. It can result in misinformation to important others.
It can literally make you unsafe if you are then given the wrong medicine, wrong treatment recommendation, wrong advice.
It can leave you feeling isolated, dismissed, misinterpreted, disbelieved, patronised, disrespected, hurt, helpless.
Professionals have a responsibility to offer a service. How well they offer that service may, in part, be down to how well they can communicate and especially how well they can listen to their client in order to genuinely meet their need.
Attitudes, values, posture and role, may all be particularly influential here, in terms of the impact they can have on the style of communication chosen and the way they engage with a person.
If it is a caring role, where interpersonal skills are key, the art of good listening is essential in order to safely and effectively meet need.
Family dynamics can be complex and can easily get in the way of being listened to or heard.
The interactions and patterns of communication may be very set and rigid, not necessarily open to growth or allowing someone to be seen in a new light. This may depend in part on the relationships and the power held by different family members and the level people generally relate on.
Not everyone can do ‘deep’ listening and genuine sharing.
Attitudes and values can make a huge difference as to whether you will feel seen or overlooked, tolerated or cared for in a conditional or unconditional way.
Health, busyness, work demands, poverty, worries, stress or other responsibilities or interests, of individual members, may also influence their availability to listen.
Roles and personalities also can be very set and hard to break out of or be enabled to change. Concern may be genuinely felt, but not easily if ever expressed.
Sadly, without a willingness to be open and listen, an intention to hear and respond, to convey genuine interest and caring for the other, misunderstanding can arise and relationships can become shallow, disharmonious or absent and almost permanently broken or lost.
When you need a friend to listen to you, especially when the dynamics of the relationship have changed, you may or may not find the compassionate listener that you hope for.
It really depends on the nature and parameters of the friendship in the first place; how mature or aware the person is and how much they want or are able to really reach out and hear you in your need.
The topic or content of what you want to say, may not be of interest, of enough concern or the person may just not be capable of hearing or dealing with any deeper emotions or complex issues that you might want to share.
If illness, injustice or grief are present, loss and bereavement may also come between you, especially if you no longer can be or do what you used to be or do.
Not everyone is up to supporting, long term, someone with complex illness or difficulties.
The long-haul can be a very long time in chronic illness....the person’s own life experience and responsibilities may also be an influence as to whether they are available to really hear you.
The break in communication that can come between partners, when one does not feel heard and seen by the other, can be extremely painful.
Without falling into complex emotions, this can be shattering, bewildering, unexpected and difficult to express,
This is especially so, if loss and grief are involved and the stages of grief bring overwhelming, unexpected, painful denial, anger or sadness to the surface.
It can be helpful to try and put your disappointment or negative experience in context. Though this is not always easy or necessarily possible.
It might help to consider what might underlie the failure to connect and communicate? What has led to the experience of not listening? Is it wrong timing? Is it unrealistic expectation? Is it overwhelming need? Is it the way you have expressed yourself? Have you misjudged the other person’s ability to listen and hear?
It could be a range of issues. It might simply be that the person does not have enough time to listen accurately or attentively, they may be too busy or distracted to pay attention. They may have something they feel is more important or interesting to think about.
They may just not have developed their attention span for really listening to another or they may not be able to tolerate, comprehend or emotionally deal with any emotional or factual content you need or want to share.
Listening is a skill that can be developed and progressed, but it needs commitment and a desire to hear and develop it.
Compassion, interest, concern, genuineness, equality, open heart and mind and the desire for true connection, lie at the heart of good communication.
Sadly not everyone might experience this.
It may even, for some, be deliberate disinterest or false judgement, based on prejudice or wrong assumption, which is much worse than the person who genuinely is unaware of their lack of ability to listen and hear.
It may also be down to a lack of capacity to empathise or simply an inability to easily convey to you that you have been heard.
Or they may simply not want to listen too much, which is painful to know.
There are other possibilities to consider though - a lack of valuing or comprehending the importance of listening. If you have never been listened to yourself or felt the need to be really heard, you may not know how to do it or how important it is: what a difference it can make to your relationship.
There are no easy answers, but the starting point could be better two-way communication, trying to understand the others position and reactions. This might be hard or challenging or impractical or too difficult to manage, depending on who it is, their role and relationship to you.
But perhaps if you can understand context, at least it is a starting point to not feeling demolished, when you do not feel you have been heard.
Linda and Greg Crowhurst
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