Do you often feel like everyone’s therapist? Sometimes, being a good listener can backfire.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we learn how just lending an ear can ‘fuel’ people’s desire to unload their burdens, leading to feelings of fatigue and frustration.
If strangers have revealed deeply personal things to you at the supermarket, or in the hair salon, or an Uber ride, it might be because you’re a good listener. While it’s an excellent trait to cultivate, it can put you in the default role of everyone’s therapist – people might even begin relying on you for it.
According to a report in US-based psychology news website Psychology Today, the ability to listen well isn’t the problem – it’s usually the burnout that happens when the listener believes it’s their role to make people feel better, or solve their problems for them. So, for instance, after hours of listening and counselling, when you find that your friend has ignored your advice and is doing their own thing, you might feel like you wasted your time.
However, the trick to good listening, as any therapist will tell you, is to listen – and trust the other person to figure it out. It’s not the listener’s responsibility to resolve other people’s challenges, no matter how bad they feel for them or how willing they are to help. Here are some ways, according to the Psychology Today report, in which you can develop a new way of interacting and being there for the other person, without feeling burnout:
1. Be aware
Do you automatically become a problem solver when someone shares their struggles with you? Or feel anger and resentment at someone ignoring your advice, or hurt that no one ever bothers to check in with you? Pause and develop an awareness of the dynamic you’re in – identify, accept and forgive all the ways you’ve played a role in it, and encourage yourself to move on.
2. Feel, not fix
Swap solutions with empathy, when listening. It’s often more helpful than offering ways to fix the issue. Even telling people to think positively, or look on the bright side doesn’t often add value. It’s enough to just sit with them in the moment and share the overwhelming emotions they’re feeling, so that they know they’re not alone.
3. Offer perspective
Sometimes, people just want to know what you think. Share your unique perspective, with the clarification that it’s based on your own experiences, and at the end of the day, the other person knows what works best for them. By letting the other person know they have the power of choice in the matter, it helps prevent you from having any expectations about the outcome.
4. Embrace the discomfort
If you often find yourself in the role of the ‘fixer’, it might be a little uncomfortable, at first, to take a step back and rein in any solutions you might think of. You might begin to feel guilty, but take heart at knowing that these are the boundaries you’re setting up for a healthier relationship. Settle into the discomfort to give yourself the chance to grow.