There's a great sense of relief that comes with knowing you can listen to someone in distress, as they articulate their pain or confusion, without having to give advice. I used to feel a dreadful sense of responsibility to somehow provide a solution – but no longer.
Very frequently, when we're upset, we just need to blow off steam. Ventilating, or, as someone I know puts it, 'effervescing.' Isn't that cute? It's a good way of reducing the pressure.
Just this weekend, I've had two people close to me, needing a shoulder to cry on (literally in one case) or an empathic ear. I used to feel as if it was my obligation, once I'd 'been briefed' on the issue, to find a solution. Until I realised that few people implemented what I suggested anyhow - on the personal-life level, that is. I concluded that all they needed, was someone to provide them with a safe, confidential environment and non-judgemental listening.
I finally learned this from watching my 82 year-old godmother dealing with troubled people. She's one of those souls to whom you can pour out your angst, with a feeling of complete safety. It took some time for the penny to drop. I realised that when I sounded off about something, she listened most intently, and you certainly had a feeling of support. But she's never offered advice unless I've asked for it. That may seem strange, but I understand it as a genuine respect, rather than a copping out.
When we do ask for advice, we're quite often using people as a sounding board for what are already cut and dried solutions in our own minds. The advice we most often accept or implement, is that which is closest to what we'd like to hear or do. Which is often a long way from what we should be doing.
Ever had someone saying, 'But you don't understand!' ? When perhaps you do, all too clearly. But what you've got wrong, is that your (probably unsolicited) advice or suggestion, doesn't conform with what they feel they'd really like to do. It's particularly difficult dissuading people from a self-indulgent or selfish course of action. A response I got recently was, 'I didn't expect to hear the same thing from you. That's what my therapist said.' Whew! Talk about a United Nations diplomatic tightrope. I'm almost at the point of saying to people, 'Tell me what you'd like to hear, and I'll tell it to you!'
The skill lies in not taking responsibility for the situation, or feeling a sense of obligation to come up with a solution. If the solution were that simple, the person would probably have come up with it her or himself. That doesn't mean you don't care or won't try to help. But it does mean you get to stop playing God, which is quite a relief. I always joke and say that the most uplifting moment in my life was when I let go of the burden of being responsible, single-handedly, for the smooth running of the Universe. Seriously. I found it very difficult worrying about plastic bag pollution, cholesterol, the hole in the ozone layer, the Berlin wall and endangered dolphins all at once. I didn't put the complexity there.
Thought for the day
We were given two ears and one mouth. The lesson should be obvious.