Learning to listen

One skill I learned as a peer counselor was how to help people process through their emotions. Many clients would seek counseling because they did not feel safe working through their emotions with others. Often they would hear phrases like “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “You’re wrong to be so angry.”

Some clients came with legitimate grievances. Others knew that they were overreacting. Some didn’t even know fully why they were upset. Yet all they could see was their anger, sadness, or bitterness; it was impossible to hear the words of others. I would often hear “My friend doesn’t even understand how I feel, so how can he know what is going on?”

I was taught to listen carefully, to not pass judgment, to not tell the person that their emotions are wrong, bad, or inappropriate. I would try to understand the reasons behind the emotions. It was only after building that relationship of trust that I would bring up inconsistencies or concerns. Yet I always remember that it is the client that is the expert about himself, about his emotions, experiences, and perspectives.

The past few days have been incredibly emotional for so many. There is very little that I know about the history of both entire communities and individual people. I want my default posture to be one of listening, of trying to understand, recognizing that there is much that I do not.

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