Just listening

A friend of mine, who I was trying to help, remarked that I wasn’t taking her difficulty seriously because I was trying to fix it rather than acknowledge it. On reflection I think she was right.

Just to emphasize the point the universe, in the shape of Bill O’Hanlon, sent me this:

DEEP LISTENING: How to connect with and take seriously people who are suffering
Bill O’Hanlon, , http://www.billohanlon.com

* Sit with the person’s pain and suffering with compassion instead of offering positive stories or trying to fix, give advice or suggestions. Be willing to do nothing, just be with, acknowledge and honor the person, their pain and their suffering. Just having told one’s story can often be powerfully therapeutic.

* Attend to the person’s story and experience rather than your own idea.

* Be aware of the bias many of us have and our culture has toward redemptive stories. Do not try to change, rewrite, reframe or invalidate the person’s non-redemptive, non-happy ending stories.

* Give credit for small or large efforts, endurance or strength in facing challenges without being patronizing.

* Keep one foot in acknowledgment and one in possibilities, but do not insist on always speaking the possibilities.

* Avoid platitudes:
Everything will work out.
God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
You are going to be all right.

* Avoid glib explanations:
Why did you create this?
I wonder what you are meant to learn from this?
What part of you needs or benefits from this pain?

* Speak to the complexity of the situation by including seeming contradictions:
You can’t go on suffering like this and you don’t want to die.
You want to give up and you don’t want to give up.

Frank, Arthur. (1998) “Just Listening: Narrative and Deep Illness,” Families, Systems and Health, 16(3): 197-212.
Kleinman, A. (1988) The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing and The Human Condition. NY: Basic Books.
Kushner, Harold S. (1981) When Bad Things Happen to Good People. NY: Avon.

Bill O’Hanlon is presenting his Geography Of Possibilities Workshop in Newcastle on September 11th and 12th.

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