Never underestimate the power of talking with someone who really listens.
Our culture doesn’t encourage people to talk about their emotional pain. Our culture teaches people to suppress their feelings. People tell each other not to “whine” about problems or not to “dwell” on them. People are told to “get over it” and to “be strong,” meaning “don’t feel anything—and if you do, don’t talk about it or show it.”
One example of this is when only certain emotions are deemed “appropriate.” Anger, especially for men, is more acceptable than sadness or anything vulnerable. So, for many men, emotions like sadness, loneliness, disappointment, anxiety, guilt, and shame get funneled into expressions that look like anger. Unhealthy coping mechanisms—such as using alcohol, other substances, or addictive activities—are taken up in order to push the genuine feelings down. These provide some temporary relief but, ultimately, undermine a person’s strength, health, and functionality.
Most people, when they feel upset, benefit by talking to someone who listens patiently, nonjudgmentally, empathically, and who shows that he/she understands at a deep level. There is something basic in the way human beings react when receiving this simple, but skillful, response to talking about their emotional pain.
Depression is no different from any other emotional pain, in this sense.good listener, we would have far fewer depressed people—possibly even fewer people on antidepressants.
Recently, a psychiatrist who was treating a friend of mine said that few people truly have a chemical imbalance causing their depression. Maybe this is why some research shows that antidepressants work about as well as placebos. Maybe the placebo works because the patients get some caring human contact before taking the pill. Human contact goes hand-in-hand with talking. We all need to see people smile at us, be warm toward us, perhaps even touch us in a friendly, appropriate way. Warm, caring human contact is essential for us to live and thrive.
Ideally, we would all have this in our lives without having to pay someone to get it. We would all have friends, relatives, spiritual leaders, mentors, teachers, or healers around to listen and care when we are upset. Yet our culture no longer supports this basic need. We are too busy. Many of us come from families who have abused us, or from whom we are separated. We often live alone, or have only our immediate family around. We are not connected to a church or community where this kind of talking may have been more available in the past. Instead we put value on the rational, over the emotional, to the extreme. As a result, many people end up trying to hide their tears and vulnerability, thus creating more alienation and isolation. Ironically, suppressing our feelings and being deprived of warm contact actually makes us more susceptible to depression, making people think they have even more to hide.
So if you are feeling depressed or in emotional pain, try to find someone you can talk to—someone who will listen deeply and without judgement. Talk to him/her about everything that’s seriously bothering you, and keep talking until you feel relief (even if you have to go through several people to have as much time talking as you need). If there’s no one in your life like this, and you don’t think you can find anyone, find a good therapist. It will help to do your talking with a highly trained, skilled, and naturally intuitive professional. You owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes to prevent depression, or deeper depression. It’s really so simple (though not always easy), yet so important.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT
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