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Are we truly able to bear witness to the lived experiences of one another?

I was reading a post on linked-in earlier today and the author compared the notion of empathetic listening to dismissive listening. For example she illustrated how simply acknowledging a persons pain is a rather rare occurrence these days. Rather it has possibly become somewhat common-place to offer advice on "how to fix", or alternatively to minimize the person's feelings ( "you should have seen what Rachel went through last year" or "you will get over it, don't think about it, it's not so bad!").


This reaction lends itself to a person feeling unheard, not acknowledged, not supported and even "invisible". A basic human need is to belong to a social group and therefore connecting with one another through our verbal and non verbal language is an essential vehicle to emotional health. When one reaches out in emotional distress to another person, it is their way of asking for validation and in essence wanting another human being to shoulder some of their "burden". However when the response is a stream of advice on "what to do", for example their initial need for a safe, open and honest place to unload is overlooked. They are left feeling abandoned and possibly even more alone in their experience than before.


How does one explain this dismissive response?


Have you heard a parent saying to their toddler "don't cry, wipe away your tears". The intention in these simple well meaning words is to remove their child's suffering. That mother experiences vicarious pain at her child's sadness. How often have you in your life-time seen a person suffering, maybe a beggar on the street for example, and you literally need to avert your gaze, as the sadness you experience is too much to contain. In other words it is possible that when someone shares their intense feelings with us, we ourselves cannot sit with their "burden" but rather need a way to fix it or "avert our gaze", so to speak.


If we can unpack our own triggers to other peoples suffering that in turn is a first step to becoming a better listener and ultimately friend or partner. Learning to simply be one with another persons experience, and to bear witness to the lived reality of others is a first step towards authentic connections.

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