Photo taken in Palmerston Park, Southampton, UK
In January I started a counselling course after developing a strong feeling to pursue the career of a counsellor. It’s interesting that after leaving New York City and I feel like I can finally breathe and I not feel the intense pressure in the back of my head to find ways to make money. As I continue to try and fulfil the obligation to enter the job market (which I won’t get too deeply into), taking a counselling course has opened up my eyes further to the importance of communicating with others effectively in order to create a much more enriching experience with the people around me and, most importantly, discovering new parts of myself.
What I’ve learned so far from counselling is to fully appreciate the power of listening. I spent nearly 24 years of my life simply putting other people’s feelings first and listening to the ongoing issues in their lives. Over time I knew I needed to start shifting myself into listening to how I felt about things. I realised I wasn’t opening up myself enough, allowing people to know who I was, for of course when people talked and I listened, they felt comfortable and liked me, even though I didn’t even say much. This still left me feeling disconnected from the other person. After a while of noticing this, when it came to conversations, I would actively talk about myself, as well as listening to what the other people told me about themselves. I’d wait in between what the other person was saying and interject with my own life experiences so I could feel included. I thought, great, now I’ve put myself in the mix, I “should” start feeling better about myself; I didn’t. The connection was still missing, especially when it came to face to face conversations. With counselling I saw that the true effect of listening required not interjecting with your own life experiences, but actually being present with them. This was easy for me because of the years I’d been doing that unconsciously, but now I’ve noticed how truly from day to day with regular people you meet there really isn’t a deep connection with the other person in terms of back and forth conversation.
Now I know it’s a bit confusing because counselling someone is very different from talking with friends or regular people you meet, but if you’ve every had or heard someone ask you “How are you?” You tend to have two options in your mind; 1, tell them how you truly are or 2, simply answer with the “normal” response of “fine,” even when you’re really not fine. Turning that scenario around, the person asking “How are you?” Do you want to hear what this person has to say about themselves or, are you automatically asking this question to adhere to a social norm. When I witness these things, and when I do them, it’s very often because of social norms. However, I’m getting to a point in which it’s becoming tiring asking questions that requires time and effort to making a connection that instead, is creating verbal litter. At the same time, we’re in such a rush and have so “little” time.
In my classes we practice counselling techniques in groups; one being a listener, one a speaker and the other an observer. During one of the practices, as a speaker, I decided to fully open up, since it’s guaranteed I’ll actually be listened to. I talked about a relationship I had with someone that still has an impact on me. The listener has to give what’s called “minimal encourages,” which consists of head nods, eye contact and saying: “uh-huh” and “yeah.” This gives the talker the assurance that the listener is actually listening and allows the talker to speak more. Often, and without realising, when we listen we tend to jump in and say how we feel or give advice, instead of keeping quiet and listening. During this particular practice session I trusted that whatever I said would not be judged or looked down upon. At the end of it I felt happy and touched because the listener really was interested in what I had to say. I became slightly emotional, I finally experienced what I had wanted years ago, the feeling of connection, at the same time new insights appeared. I explained at the end of the practice —because you must give feedback — that the feeling I had is what I want people to experience when they speak to me or when I’m doing counselling. Would this be the connection I’m looking for?
Having said all that, I really thought about my life when it comes to interacting with people. Are they really listening? Am I afraid of opening up myself to people because of the fear they’re not listening? Am I the only one who notices this? Am I the only one who has set out to change it? I understood why I would be afraid to open up to others — it’s really hard to talk to another person, who you’re expecting to listen, make a judgment or tell you what you “should” do, rather than just let you talk and be out with it. That opportunity to figure things out or give suggestions aids with my own growth rather than being told what to do. Understanding this, the way I talk to people is shifting and I’m becoming much more less likely to tell someone what they “should” do and I’d much rather ask them what they think they could do. The next thing I run into now is talking to people who don’t have the knowledge I posses when it comes to listening and so I still get that feeling that opening myself would result in not being heard.
I’ve recently come across a few people who’ve I attempted to make real friendships and connections with and come up short because they harness the same fears I mentioned above. Feeling anxious about people you come into contact with and those people not staying in your life, to be there for you, to listen to you, to support you on your journey or personal growth without judgement and aimless advice. I want people to know that those same fears are holding you back from people who actually care and want to be your friends. Putting in the effort as well takes a lot but is necessary to get the gears moving. At the same time, I know what you and many would say: “I’m not there yet,” “I’m going through a lot right now” or “I’m too busy.” I can completely understand, however it’s limiting to think you have to do it alone or push away those who may have something to tell you when they’re in your life. By putting in the effort to talk, open up and, most of all, listen, you can develop a long lasting friendship and learn about yourself in the process.
I can only hope more people have the courage to put themselves out there as I’m doing myself. We all want connections, we just have to get up off our asses and make them, did you listen to what I said?