How to Listen to a Griever
Posted on 15th March 2019 at 10:11
To say that people are uncomfortable with emotions such as sadness, rage or fear – especially after a personal loss – is an understatement.
Sit back for a moment and think about the times in your life when you were feeling sad and tried to talk about those feelings with others. On a few occasions your friend or family member may have simply listened without analysis, criticism or judgement. More often than not, however, you may have received one of the following responses:-
logical reasons for why you shouldn’t feel bad (“look on the bright side!”);
phrases like “you need to get over it” or “move on”;
a story about someone else in an even worse situation (“at least it’s not THAT bad”);
statements such as “I know just how you feel”;
suggestions to “keep your chin up” or “be strong”;
stories that are all about them, not about you;
recommendations for how to distract yourself - getting out more, exercising, meeting new people, cleaning.
While those that listened allowed you to express and even release some of that emotional discomfort, did the others help you to feel better in any way? Chances are that you walked away with a feeling that no one really understood (or even cared to understand) the pain you were feeling.
Most of us have very little formal education on how to handle the emotions associated with loss. Most of what we learned as children was gathered from watching how the adults around us tried to deal with their own pain. In many cases they tried to cope by burying that pain in their heart and never talking about it, or by numbing the pain in unhealthy ways. That did not make the pain go away; it just took away from them the ability to truly feel happy.
The Grief Recovery Method teaches us how to listen and comfort others without trying to fix, explain, or overanalyse the pain. Instead, we use the image of a “heart with ears” – offering our full presence and listening with care and patience. If and when we do respond, we do so without offering judgement, analysis or criticism. Rather than telling someone we know “exactly how they feel”, we can instead remind ourselves that every griever is unique. Words such as “I can only imagine how you must be feeling” are more effective in helping someone in pain feel truly understood. Finally, we can offer a hug if it feels appropriate. Remember: grievers do not need to be fixed, they only need to be heard.
By offering a friend or family member your full presence and a listening ear, you are offering them the best support and comfort you could possibly give – the chance for them to speak about their pain with emotional honesty and a wonderful opportunity to begin healing.
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