The Healing Art of Listening

The act of genuine listening can help us heal. Listening to another person’s story can actually help you heal your own story.
Lindsay Mumma headshot

By Lindsay Mumma, DC

Years ago, I finally read the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. I was slapped in the face with the reality that I had spent most of my life “helping” people make things “better” instead of doing what they actually wanted or needed.

 

Ever since reading that book in 2014 (which had sat on my shelf for at least a year because, let’s face it, the title is not very intriguing), I have been working on eliminating the “fixing” and “helping” that I’d previously been so inclined to offer.

 

After all, it’s my job to help people.  If you don’t know me, I’m a chiropractor.  So people come to me with issues, ailments, pains, and discomforts, and I help them feel better.  But there has always been something else that people come into my office with, and I’d been overlooking it for years: stories.

 

I loved to connect with people and hear all about them, but if they brought up anything that sounded like it was maybe challenging for them, I was quick to offer a solution, advice, or a fix that they could consider.

 

Sometimes it was the very thing they needed to hear.  Sometimes it was the exact opposite of what they needed.

 

The difference was in whether or not they’d asked for help.  And it took me almost 30 years on this earth to figure that out.

Most of us, for most problems that we encounter, just want to recount our stories and have someone listen.  But because the people we’re telling our stories to often haven’t seen this modeled, they are there to remind us of all of the platitudes we hate to hear but keep repeating:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“It’ll get better soon.”

“It won’t always be like this.”

“I’m sure you can find the silver lining.”

 

And the diminishing responses:

“Well, at least you didn’t…”

“It can’t be as bad as this [insert story here].”

“Things could always be worse.”

“Yeah, but you’ve overcome so much before. This is nothing.”

And the favorite of parents around the globe: “You’re okay.”

 

Aren’t those all cringe-worthy?  And haven’t you heard each of those statements more times than you’d like?  Have you maybe said some of those statements yourself?  I certainly did!

 

I hypothesize that there’s another underlying reason why we in general have a hard time listening: it’s hard.  And because no one’s listened to us, we haven’t been able to fully process the weight we carry with us; we simply don’t have any more space to take on another person’s sufferi

Most people don’t want their problems solved. They just want their problems heard.

- Dr. Lindsay Mumma

But here’s the magic part: listening can help us heal.  The act of listening to another person’s story can actually help you heal your own.  It reminds you:

  • You don’t have to have the answers in order to offer support.
  • You can sit in uncomfortable feelings.
  • You can sit in silence.

 

When you do these things, you become more resilient.  Like most things, it’s hard and requires practice, but in practicing genuine listening, you give one of the best gifts to another human.

 

Listening to another’s story does not require you to carry their burden.  When you listen, you help something in the storyteller heal.  And maybe, just maybe, she can turn it back around and listen to you.

 

At the risk of making this entry a little too long, but likely more memorable, I’ll tell you a short story.  I shared a very personal email with my newsletter subscribers.  In it, I said that I was not looking for advice or any type of input, but I still got some.  One woman responded with information on how her dog had dealt with something remotely similar.

 

I’ll let you read that last line again.

 

Yup.  Nothing says you heard me like telling me how your dog dealt with my problem.

 

As I recounted this story to one of my dearest friends (who is an excellent listener), she accidentally said the word “advicing”.  She misspoke when she meant to say that it was hilarious that this woman was advising me about my health via her dog’s story.  We both agreed that “advicing” was actually a really fitting word for this precise scenario.  If someone asks you for advice, you may advise them.  But if they don’t ask for any input and you give it regardless, you have entered into the realm of advicing.

 

Most people don’t want their problems solved.  They just want their problems heard.

 

Before social distancing, I held a bi-annual cry circle – Teacups and Tissues – where you could come and share whatever you wanted and no one was allowed to respond.  It sounds a little bizarre, but these have been some of the most moving and powerful events that I’ve ever participated in.

Dr. Mumma received her BA from Kent State University in Kent, OH, and her Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, IA, where she was named the Clinical Excellence Award winner for her graduating class. In addition to the academic requirements of the DC program, Dr. Mumma has also completed over 600 continuing education credit hours in areas such as rehabilitation, developmental kinesiology, pediatrics, pregnancy, nutrition, pain management, sports injuries, TMJ disorder treatment, disc pain, and neurology. She owns and manages Triangle Chiropractic and Rehabilitation in Raleigh, NC.

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