Why Being A Good Listener Is Sometimes A Bad Thing
I used to think I could fix other people.
I have always prided myself on my ability to be a really good listener, and to be genuinely interested in other people. As an introvert, I always felt I could use my innate tendency to listen rather than share as a way to connect with others.
Yet, my tendency to listen ended up becoming a problem. As I listened to the stories, admissions, and complaints of others, I would also take on their pain and suffering. Somehow, I thought I could help other people simply by becoming invested in what they had to share with me.
This didn't have to be a problem in and of itself. But I found myself over-investing. As I listened, I also tried to help by giving advice that I thought might make their suffering improve, or even go away. The problem was that when they didn't take my advice, I would take it personally.
Either consciously or unconsciously, I believed that I was in fact, better informed about how to live life than they were. I even found myself holding grudges against particular people when they continued to make poor decisions. But I was the one who decided to invest in other people to this extent in the first place. I was causing myself further discomfort by creating this cycle.
There were other times when I simply hung onto to other people's emotions and adopted them as my own. I would worry about that other person or stay up at night thinking about them. The more severe the pain and suffering, the more it would keep me up. It became harder and harder to separate my problems from the problems of those around me.
The sheer amount of emotions I clung to meant that I'd need a coping mechanism. Of course, this "decision" was unconscious. As I took on more negative emotions from others, I no longer felt the actual emotions themselves. Instead, I'd stuff the suffering down with food.
Somehow, being a self-identified "good listener" took a bad turn into emotional eating. I continued a vicious cycle of trying to help others, becoming wrapped up in their emotions and pain, and then trying to alleviate my own suffering through food.
As I developed insecurities about this cycle I'd created, I also found myself developing more negative feelings independently of others. I started complaining more, gossiping more, and eventually trying to fix those close to me, as well as my external environment.
I now realize that by trying to control everything — especially through my habit of trying to help others — I didn't address my own problems and suffering. Food isn't the only way people try to deal with their emotions, feelings, and thoughts, but for me it was a powerful catalyst in realizing that I had to go through my own transformation.
In a way, the most fascinating thing about this process was realizing that listening to myself was the first step to actually being a good listener. When I began to strip away layers of my own self-judgement, emotional baggage, and preconceived views of the world, I suddenly felt a change: I became truly empathetic towards other people, rather than trying to solve the problems of others as a way to deny my own feelings.
From this place, I learned to understand what it actually meant to be in "someone else's shoes." I no longer try to fix other people but seek to give them guidance for what they need in the present moment. Ironically, I actually value listening and giving advice — but prefer to do so from my current place of self-acceptance.
Only when we can be solid within and master our own emotions can we attempt to be there for someone else. Only when we do the work ourselves can we begin to offer guidance and help to others. Even now, I still can't fix other people. None of us can.
I learned to love myself. No, we can't fix other people. But we can be empathetic, loving, supportive, helpful, nurturing, and practical. It is still ultimately up to other people to love themselves, and to take care of themselves, as we do for ourselves.