How do you find the right person when it comes to sharing the load?
As humans, we are blessed with having so many individual strengths and characteristics that differentiate us from one another. Where some of us are skilled in certain areas to the point where we are specialists in our fields, others are more generalists, or perhaps a complete novice. Consider plumbing or investing; two occupations where there are clearly specialists who have training and education, and probably a large number of people who tackle leaking pipes or playing the stock market with more bravado and optimism than perhaps they should.
But when it comes to looking for someone to share our troubles and problems with, it is all too common that we assume everyone has the time, the skill, the interest and the ability to listen to us. Unfortunately, like the once-a-year Plummer and the weekend Investor, not everyone has the refined skills it requires to actively listen and give the necessary time to someone who is unburdening themselves.
Now I can guess that you might be thinking that the simple act of listening doesn’t really require any special skill. Boil the kettle, let the tea steep, get out the biscuits and sit back and pay attention while you nibble on your biscuits and sip your tea. What could be easier?
Strange then that we aren’t all experts at listening. But we aren’t. I listen to people every single day without exaggeration who tell me of their disappointments, frustrations, accomplishments and tragedies; but I’d make a poor professional Mental Health Counsellor. I’m too quick to see solutions, want to interject possible steps to resolve conflicts, and want too much for clients to just do what to me is obvious and I want to fix things. Real counselling is more about listening, allowing someone to pour themselves out, express their feelings, guiding and exploring, encouraging and supporting. Some of this I do absolutely, but I’m not qualified to be an Individual or Family Counsellor and recognize that.
And yet, having said all of this, it’s not surprising that many people will nonetheless say that one of their strengths is their ability to listen to others. “I’m the one people come to when they want someone to listen to their problems and get advice”, I often hear. Part of me is glad that whomever these ‘people’ are, they have someone to unburden themselves with. That means the person in front of me is acting like a vent in a teapot, giving some outlet for the person to blow off steam.
But I do wonder about the second skill they say they have; the ability to give advice.
Sure anyone can give advice, but can anyone give quality advice? Say if you were homeless, out-of-work and penniless without a friend or family. The person I’d first want to seek out for advice would probably not be someone who is employed behind some desk, but rather someone in my situation whose been at it for longer than me. So some fellow in a soup kitchen might be willing to tell me the location of food banks, where to flop for a night and get in out of the cold, who to avoid, who to trust, which service providers actually help vs. those that say they will but don’t. In short, I want to get advice from the experienced specialist.
A word of caution I’d give to those looking for someone to share their burdens with is to find out how much the person doing the listening can actually bear. Dumping one’s troubles on someone who is themselves overloaded with their own problems and issues and that of others besides, can mean that their capacity to receive information and process it may be limited or non-existent.
Sometimes we are so overwhelmed with our own burdens that the idea of taking on more is impossible. The consequence of this is that the whole time someone is talking, you may find yourself nodding at the appropriate moments but all the while really thinking about your own issues and devising possible solutions to their resolvement. That’s not doing the person in front of you justice, and insults them especially when they believe they are getting your full attention.
And that brings us to active listening. Active listening by definition is setting aside all else and focusing on the person completely. Hearing what is said, clarifying to ensure what you think you hear is in fact what the person is saying, and having both your ears and your body language communicate to the person that they have your full attention.
In deciding whom to share deeply personal issues, it is usually suggested that you consider the services of a trained and experienced professional. They may be in a Counselling practice, perhaps specialized as in the case of an Addicitons Counsellor, or they may be skilled most dealing with issues such as poverty, child protection, law, depression, bereavement etc. What is important is to know that the person you share with treats your disclosure with confidentiality, you yourself with respect and compassion.
Sharing ones troubles is healthy; a sign of wisdom rather than weakness, and a shortcut to regaining a healthy balance so necessary to moving forward. If you’ve got someone in your life you can trust to listen to you when you need it most, then you are most fortunate. If not, look up ‘Counselling Services’ in your area.