Saturday, June 03, 2006

Listen Silly, Part One

Alternative Universe

Listening to a child, parent or spouse is basically like entering an alternative universe. That's what it's like trying to understand someone else, generally, whether we realize it or not, it's another world. Lucky for us, we’re usually invited in. People want to talk, especially about themselves.

LISTEN SILLY #1 therefore presents a few general principals. Future posts will specify by listening topics— listening to your partner, your kid, your parents, your friends, your boss, your horoscope, (nah, not really the horoscope part). We’ll talk about getting into another person's world in general right now. It isn't easy living in or visiting someone else's universe, but it's cheaper and easier than flying American these days. If you need a hearing aid, by the way, consider the investment. The digitals rock. Let's begin.

On a popular TV show, Star Trek, there was a psychologist. Troi, I think was her name. Ensign or Lieutenant Troi. She was gorgeous, sexy and an EMPATH! She had such an enormous capacity for empathy that she would double over in terrible pain, pass out, nearly die just being in contact with strong negative feelings (I stand corrected if she had to touch a forehead or something, please comment at the end and let me know). Anyway, sometimes the pain of others almost killed her and McCoy or Captain Kirk had to come to the rescue.

What a concept! Being affected to such a degree by other peoples’ feelings that you get sick and almost die! Other peoples’ emotions are contagious, actually, but most of us don’t allow ourselves to connect to the degree that we get sick! We have an unconscious turn-off valve. We don't call depressed people or go out with them if we can avoid it. Why? They depress us! Violent, angry people can hurt us, no question, and we deliberately avoid them. Given the choice, most of us would dodge, either deliberately or unconsciousloy, most of the stuff of life that Troi was unable to filter away.

Therapists have turn-off valves, too, and put limits on how much pain they're willing to listen to or feel in a day. If they didn’t, they’d get sick all of the time. Therapists who feel too much suffering burn out and don't last more than a few years before it's off to selling real estate they go. IT'S TRUE. Ah, but I digress. (I think Troi had GREAT vacation benefits, by the way).

There are really empathetic people, out there, however, who know how to listen and when, who have GREAT listening skills that sincerely convey empathy and caring. My goal in the LISTEN, SILLY series is to make you one of them.

Few people are naturally clairvoyant, and communication therapies make a big deal about mind-reading being a serious No No. So if the person you are trying to listen to doesn't talk, you may have to work at drawing out the words. Trust is not a simple matter. If your significant other or child is uncommunicative, if you want to listen but he or she won't talk, then your job is to indicate clearly that you are accepting and non-judgemental, that you will actually listen hard to that person's thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. It’s harder than it sounds.

Families in which people really listen with feeling, are, indeed, happier. This is why therapists value the quality of empathy, listening to get inside the other's shoes, above all else. If individuals in families aren't able to be speak and be heard, if no one's really listening, then they'll look elsewhere for understanding. Not that that's necessarily bad, but depending upon the age of the individual doing the looking, it can be dangerous.

So how do you get there? How can you become a little more like Troi? The job is to listen so hard and long that if pressed you could literally present the other's point of view convincingly, as if it’s your own. To do that, you have to SHUT UP about your OWN SIDE OF THE STORY, not worry about who is right and who is wrong, and LISTEN TO THE OTHER PERSON'S SIDE, and repeat it back, if you dare.

The alternate universe is the one we don't know; it’s the one we’ve never been to before. It should be more interesting, you would think.

They're shoes are so interesting.

More on empathy another time. Feel free, please, to comment. I'll try to write back.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


The Stooge said...

I think Troi was on the Enterprise with Picard and Riker... and that redheaded woman was doctor.

Other than that, interesting stuff!

Anonymous said...

troi was a counseler dr crusher with her son wesley was the doctor and her son the ensign.

Elizabeth Hensley said...

Alternate Universe all right! :)) Troi in OUR Universe came along about 75 years after Captain Kirk and McCoy. She was Captain Picard's crew mate on Star Trek the Next Generation not on the original Star Trek which has been retro named Classic Trek.

You are right. She didn't have to touch anyone.

therapydoc said...

Thanks Elizabeth. I know I could be catching up on the reruns on cable, but it just doesn't feel the same anymore. Gimme time.

Elaine said...

Ok, first of all - love the Star Trek plug and I snorted out loud that you got the show versions wrong. Loved it!

But I always thought it sucked that "Counselor" Troi was "only emphatic - I'm only half Betazed". Indicating some flaw because she wasn't a fully functional telepath.

Daniella said...

Re: Counselor Troi was only half Betazoid, recall that Spock was only half Vulcan.
This is a brilliant post. Tweeted.
Daniella Martin

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts