The other day my daughter Tasia was telling me about some things going on with friends in high school that were troubling her. I listened briefly and then immediately jumped into “problem-solving” mode. She stopped me short, “Mom, I don’t want you to solve this for me…I just want you to listen and nod your head.” I laughed and made some exaggerated head nods and she replied “Yes! Just keep doing that!”.
The next day with my own mom, I was telling her about an issue going on at work that was bothering me. She listened briefly and then immediately jumped into “problem-solving” mode (Apparently the apple didn’t fall from the tree!). I felt irritation and realized this was how Tasia must have felt– I had actually already mostly worked out how I was going to deal with the issue but just wanted to tell my mom about it. I wanted to be heard. Tasia wanted to be heard. I related all of this to my mom and we talked about how the process of “being heard” is therapeutic.
The following day, I found myself in clinic with a patient. She is a very sweet woman in her 80’s who is experiencing difficulties with her husband. You see, he has dementia. But that is not the hardest part. Her husband had been a domineering person before developing dementia, and now with the illness has tried to deny any problems with his function. Her children have entered the picture in a good way to help with bill paying (he was paying the wrong amounts) and transportation (he was getting lost and insisted he should keep driving). So, in essence, she did not need me to solve any problems for her. But, she wanted to be heard, and even complain about him. She loves him but his behavior has been difficult, and sometimes she feels very disgusted with him. She knows these behaviors are part of his illness, but used to feel guilty for even voicing her “bad feelings”. Admitting this out loud was progress for her. It occurred to me that creating the space where she is able to express herself and say “bad thoughts” aloud has enabled her to return to the situation with more peace about it. When she left the appointment, she gave me a big hug and said she was going to miss seeing me while I was on sabbatical.
And to think, all I did was listen.