We can all relate to having a hard day. There are things either swirling around or laying heavy somewhere deep inside. Sometimes we can’t even identify what is going on, but even if we know, we don’t always know what to do about it all.
Sometimes it helps to talk about it all. I think we can also relate to sitting with someone and sharing all the feelings. In that sharing, we usually don’t want solutions or advice. We certainly do not want to be fixed. We just want to be heard. Maybe we want a hug.
I was in counseling for a season to work through some trauma that I had been through. My therapist was my safe space to process all the emotions I had been going through. One day she commented that I didn’t seem to be embracing anything she was offering.
It confused me as well until I realized it wasn’t advice I wanted. What I really needed was space to process my thoughts and feelings out loud, without any fear of pushback for having those feelings. Maybe like many others, I had never really been able to do that.
When we’re younger and face problems raising kids, or working through marriage difficulties, or career challenges, there are zillion books waiting to offer advice. When we’re older, the books are fewer. And we’re not always looking for advice because we understand that some things don’t have answers. They have pathways of acceptance.
So we need an ear. It’s hard to process out loud when we’re alone. But a friend, or counselor, who will be an ear for our processing is invaluable. When we talk things out, we are sometimes surprised by what we say. Oh, I guess I’m feeling insecure, or fearful, or envious, or manipulated. Maybe we’re just sad and not in control of anything. Whatever the feeling, it might take a minute to figure out.
Knowing that we can all benefit from people who will do that for us, it would be good to remember we can do it for others as well. We can be the kind of friend (partner, co-worker, parent, child) who will just offer space for someone to process. Can we practice all the self control we can muster to not offer advice, or opinions, or fixes?
Unless someone begins the conversation with “I need some advice,” we should assume that we are simply a a safe space. We should stop and recognize the honor that comes with someone trusting us. And we should never violate that trust by coming in hard with opinions or advice.
I don’t know if there’s a greater gift we can give to another than space for processing. When we don’t listen with the intent to reply, we can truly hear, helping the other push forward with their own thoughts. Gaps of silence don’t get filled with our own ideas because we are waiting for them to figure out theirs. It helps them feel loved, cared for, and worthy of our attention.
Listening is the loud silence which communicates we are present, soft, and open. It helps the other step into feeling valued, heard, and seen. Mostly it helps them figure out what they are really going through. Talking helps with walking. A little steadier, a little more confident, and a little more loved.