We all have a need to be heard at the deepest level. The capacity for others to be receptive to our deeper true self, from our earliest years influences how healthy we become emotionally, how connected to our needs and feelings. Learning to listen with empathy is a skill we need to master if we really wish to be there for others.
Listening with empathy requires giving up a self centred view of the world in order to participate fully in another person’s experience. It requires focusing and paying attention not only to the words being spoken but also to gestures, body position, and facial expressions. When you listen with empathy, you make a conscious effort to set aside your biases or any distorted thinking you tend to employ. You learn how to connect with the other person’s emotions without being carried away by them, to step in then step back, reading the other person’s cues to judge when to move closer and when to give distance. Part of the reason my mother was such a great empathic listener was that she understood how to live with ambiguity and the inability to find answers or solutions to all problems.
Listening with such clarity and depth of feeling that the other person truly feels heard is a kind of holy listening…… Empathic (holy) listening goes deep into the other person’s heart and soul to reveal what is hidden by fear, anger, grief, or despair. This kind of listening can be taught. It can be passed from one person to another. We can learn how to listen with empathy by being around people who are empathic and who understand how to “listen to our souls in life.”
Empathic listening releases the compassion hormone oxytocin, which blocks the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Your brain releases oxytocin when you feel understood and connected to another human being. In addition to releasing stress and preventing the release of cortisol, this neurochemical helps us to live longer, promotes calmness, reduces fear and addictive behaviour and increases trust and feelings of security. When we feel calm and secure, we are in a position to correct our distorted thinking.
Empathy is therefore strongly connected to validation and the above quotes from The Stress Solution : Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience reveal how a child that is not responded to with empathy will find their body and brain flooded by stress hormones which leave negative consequences. Invalidation abuse triggers a stress response in a person and then tends to amp up the stress response through negative thought leading to more painful feelings. Difficult feelings can then intensify if the person is left alone with no empathic witness.
If we want to help ourselves when we are feeling flooded with stress it is so important to respond to ourselves with empathy or find someone who is empathic to share our feelings with. If we can learn how to respond with validation and empathy we can become soothers in the world and for ourselves. Listening with empathy is such an important skill to learn. Understanding the consequences of having lived with those who lack empathy is also important. We cannot blame ourselves for having developed real scars and difficulties with anxiety or stress if we have consistently found ourselves in situations where we are consistently being treated with a lack of empathy.