Why We Need to Feel Heard – Free Ebook

One of our deepest longings – deeper than
we even perhaps recognise day to to day – is

that other people should acknowledge certain
of our feelings. We want that – at key moments

– our sufferings should be understood, our
anxieties noticed and our sadness lent legitimacy.

We don’t want others necessarily to agree
with all our feelings, but what we crave is

that they at least validate them. When we
are furious, we want another person to say:

I can see that you’ve been driven to distraction.
It must feel very chaotic for you inside right

now for you. When we are sad, we want someone
to say: I know you’re unusually down and

I understand the reasons why. And when we
can’t take it all any more, we want someone

gently to say: It’s been too much for you;
I recognise that so well; of course it has.

It sounds desperately simple, and in a way
it is. And yet how little of this emotional

nectar of acknowledgement we ever in fact
receive or gift to one another. The habit

of not having one’s feelings properly acknowledged
begins in childhood. Parents, even the most

loving ones, frequently stumble in this domain.
It’s not that they don’t theoretically

care intensely for their children, it’s
that they don’t appreciate that true care

involves regularly reflecting a child’s
moods back to him or herself – rather than

subtly pushing the moods away or denying that
they exist. Here are some typical unacknowledging

parent-child exchanges:Child: I’m feeling
sad. Parent: Don’t be silly, you can’t

be, it’s the holidays.Child: I’m really
worried. Parent: Darling, now that’s that’s

ridiculous, there’s just nothing to be scared
of here.Child: I wish there wasn’t any school

ever ever. Parent: Don’t be so silly. You
know we have to leave the house by eight.How

different things might go, and what a different
sort of adult the child would have a chance

to grow into, if such dialogues were only
slightly tweaked: if, for example, the parent

could say: ‘It’s weird isn’t it how
it’s possible to be sad at the oddest of

times, even on a beach holiday…’ Or: ‘I
can see you’re scared: that wind is really

fierce out there…’ Or: ‘It must be horrible
having double maths all morning, especially

after such a nice weekend…’ There is one
reason why we don’t acknowledge as we might:

fear. The feelings we push away are all, in
some shape or other, emotionally inconvenient,

or troubling or upsetting: we love our child
so much, we don’t want to imagine that they

might be sad or worried, lost or having a
terribly difficult time at school. Furthermore,

we may operate with a background view that
acknowledging a difficult feeling will make

it far worse than it is. It will mean fostering
it unduly or giving way to it entirely. We

fear that if we give a bit of unbiased mirroring
to our child, we might be encouraging them

to grow cataclysmically depressive, unfeasibly
timid or manically resistant to authority.

What we’re missing is that most of us, once
we’ve been heard, become far less – rather

than far more – inclined to insist on the
feelings we’re beset by. The angry person

gets less rather than more enraged once the
depth of their frustration has been recognised;

the rebellious child grows more, not less
inclined, to buckle down and do their homework

once their feelings that they want to burn
the school down, break the headmaster’s

glasses and abscond to a desert island have
been listened to and identified with for fifty-five

seconds. Feelings get less strong, not more
tyrannous, as soon as they’ve been given

an airing. We become bullies when no one’s
listened, never because they listened too

much. The problem of unacknowledged feelings
doesn’t – sadly – end with childhood.

Couples routinely put each other through the
same mill. For example:Partner 1: Sometimes

I feel that you don’t listen… Partner
2: That has to be rubbish; I put so much work

into this relationship.Partner 1: I’m worried
I might be fired Partner 2: That’s not possible,

you work so hard.All the way to the divorce
courts – or an affair.The good news is that

an enormous uplift in mood is available right
now, with very little effort, if we simply

learn to change the way we typically respond
to the I-statements of those who matter to

us. We only need to play their feelings back
to them, even the potentially awkward feelings,

for a few moments using certain magical phrases:
I can hear that you must… You must be feeling

so… I can understand completely that…
Such phrases can change the course of lives.

Crucially, we don’t

need to be listened to by everyone. We can
bear an awful lot of unacknowledged feelings

when just a few people, some of them in our
childhood, and ideally one of them in our

bedroom and in our friendship circle every
now and then plays us back to us. The ranter,

the person animated by a rigid desire that
everyone should listen to them, hasn’t (of

course) been overindulged: they are just playing
out the frightening consequences of never

having been heard when it mattered. There
is almost no end to what we may be ready to

do for those who pay us that immense, psychologically-redemptive
honour of once in a while acknowledging what

we’re actually feeling, however odd, melancholy
or inconvenient it might be.

Our Emotional First Aid kit provides a set of useful salves to some of life’s most challenging psychological situations. Including friendship, love, sex, work and self.

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