This past fortnight has been an absolute rollercoaster (of emotions) for me. It’s been so important for me to seek out people who can genuinely listen! We live in a society which encourages us to be ‘ok’, look good and be happy and who do not want to listen (hear you) when you are not ‘ok’ and maybe feeling sad, frustrated and disappointed.
“Listen. People start to heal the moment they feel heard.”
Two weeks ago, my partner Andy slipped, fell and broke his leg. He was in agony. He was in hospital for a week and had to have an operation to bolt and screw his left fibula back into place. Firstly, there was the initial shock and then gradually all the other implications began to dawn. I had to juggle my work and looking after the horses with hospital visits. Several things went wrong at home, which Andy would normally fix, and I had to get help. (I’m already aware of everything that Andy does for me, but this incident made me even more grateful!)
Our families have been amazing with practical help, providing lifts to the hospital, visiting Andy when I couldn’t go and doing some of the jobs for me which Andy would normally do!
But finding those who could genuinely listen to how I was ‘feeling’ and who were happy to hear my emotions was not so easy! As a result, at times I could feel myself slipping into my old pattern of disconnecting from others and wanting to shut myself away.
As the week progressed, I also started to realise that our planned holiday to Namibia in March, to celebrate my 60th birthday, was in jeopardy. I felt sick and so sad. I’ve wanted to go to Africa for a long time and three years ago I put images of elephants on my vision board and started to bring my dream into reality. Last November we booked the trip and we had carefully planned the route so that we would be in the Etosha National Park on my actual birthday. The thought of this not happening was devastating and yet I couldn’t share the extent of my feelings with those close to me. They didn’t want to see me unhappy and encouraged me to think positively and said that we could always re-book the holiday for another time!
That was true – but I still felt devastated – and I needed an outlet for these true feelings. I’ve spent a lifetime suppressing my emotions and now I know that, for my wellbeing, I need to express my truth. As the weekend approached and Andy was being well looked after in the Royal United Hospital in Bath, whilst awaiting his operation, we decided that it would be good for me to go away for a few days as planned, with a dear friend.
“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”
I met Stephanie during my training to become a Life Coach. One of the first concepts that we learned was ‘genuine listening’ and I couldn’t think of anyone I would rather spend the weekend with. As I was able to share my true feelings, and Stephanie genuinely listened, the stress in my system started to release. On the Saturday I had a migraine and felt sick and nauseous and, on the Sunday, I had stomach cramps and diarrhoea, as the wave of stress passed through my body. I arrived home on the Sunday evening and the next morning whilst walking Alfie (my Jack Russell) the tears flowed.
Just as when the skies cleared after Storm Ciara my mind cleared. I could see the devastation left behind by the storm and the impact that Andy’s broken leg would have on our lives, but now that the storm of emotions had passed I felt calm and I could see what I needed to do and could start working on the practical details.
I rearranged my diary so that I could cope once Andy returned from hospital, I called in help, and I created a visiting rota for relatives and friends to take care of Andy on days when I was going to be away.
The operation was successful and two days afterwards Andy was released from hospital. On our drive home Andy told me about his final discussion with the consultant that morning. It became clear that he would not be fit to go on our holiday to Namibia, and we would have to cancel! Another wave of emotion hit me, this time it was grief, the actual finality of the loss of our planned trip. After settling Andy in the lounge in his portable bed, with his leg elevated, I took myself away to cry – and broke my heart.
“Sometimes we need someone to just listen. Not to try and fix anything or offer alternatives, but just to be there….. to listen. An ear that listens can be medicine for a heart that hurts.”
It took a couple of days for the grief to flow through my system. It was during this time that I was most vulnerable to my own ‘false self’ voices – “you’re all wrapped in yourself, what about Andy”; “what are you making such a fuss about – it’s only a holiday, which you can re-book”; “there are more tragic things happening in the world, you should be grateful”. I was also vulnerable to those who could not understand why I was so upset and wanted to fix or pacify me. It was then that I most needed those who could genuinely listen, who could allow me to show my feelings, to be devastated, to cry, to rant and know that it was a process and that I would come out the other side.
Andy is usually that person. He is a genuine listener. He allows me to be my true self, without judgement. But in this instance, he had enough to cope with, with his own pain, discomfort, feelings and emotions.
To genuinely listen is an art! It not only requires that you allow the other person to speak their truth without trying to fix or diminish them, but also that you sit with your own uncomfortable feelings. It needs you to have compassion.
“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.”
When I review my past couple of weeks, I realise that this life event gave me an opportunity to be true to myself, to share my true feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration and grief and to cry, even though at times it might have upset others. It’s this ability which has allowed me to come back to equilibrium, without feeling any resentment, feeling calm and ready to move on.
If you are reading this from the perspective of being in ‘my shoes’ then, when faced with your next challenge, my advice is to allow your true feelings to flow and to find someone who can genuinely listen to you and trust the process.
If you are reading this from the perspective of ‘supporting someone else’ with a challenge then my advice is to genuinely listen, sit with your own uncomfortable feelings and resist the desire to fix, fade or deny their true feelings and emotions. Trust that this is one of the most special gifts that you can give to someone.
If you want support to express your true feelings and would like to find out more about my coaching please get in touch.