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How to Help Someone Feel Loved and Understood

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  ~Ralph Nichols

Did you know that one in ten U.S adults suffer from depression? (This is according to the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention.) How do I know? I was one of them. Starting in 2008, I suffered from depression for more than a year.

Many factors contributed to my depression—of course loneliness and lack of social support were the obvious factors—but the major contributor was that I didn’t feel understood. It was a transition year for me, as I had left my corporate job to find more meaningful work that was aligned with my core values.

With the time off, I started feeling and sensing how much past pain and resentments I had stored inside my heart. It was like the quieter I got, the more I heard how much of what was inside me. I felt a huge void, as if I was a failure in more than one aspect of my life.

During my depression, I felt like my family members and friends did not understand me and lacked the time, patience, or skills to listen effectively. I felt suffocated, isolated, and invisible. 

The universe has a weird way of working things out in life; things appear or show up for a reason. What appeared for me was a powerful listener. Though this person was a complete stranger to me, I felt connected from the very first day.

When they listened so patiently and intently to my words and feelings—both expressed and unexpressed—it felt so incredible that I didn’t want to stop sharing. I emptied my entire heart, all my fears, disappointments, and pain. I released all of it.

It was a pure, non-judgmental, patient, and empathetic space where I got to express and feel understood and validated. I didn’t get any solutions, advice, or answers. Instead I got thought provoking questions, like “What does your soul really want?” “What makes you happy?” “What are you grateful for?” and “How can you forgive?”

It was this powerful listening that provided immeasurable healing. It was the first time in my life I actually felt like I had been heard, really understood—like what I had to say made sense. I felt important and visible again. 

Like most depressed people, I lacked motivation and self-worth. Feeling understood is the most basic of human needs; during a time of depression it almost feels as critical as the need for air. 

Being understood immediately shifted my perspective: from feeling invisible to feeling visible, from feeling down to feeling uplifted, from feeling contracted to feeling expanded, from feeling hopeless to hopeful.

It made me rise again and take care of my basic needs. Slowly but surely, I was able to walk out of the depression with the help of powerful listening, which has changed my life forever.

Have you ever been in a situation when you felt like your words weren’t being acknowledged? Like you were expressing yourself over and over again, yet what you were being misunderstood? Like you were fighting so hard to get your point across, but it only got worse?

This often leaves you feeling frustrated and angry, with doubts about yourself. It can cause you to hang onto negative emotions and resentments, which could become the building blocks of depression.

“Effective listeners remember that ‘words have no meaning—people have meaning.’ The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.” ~Larry Barker

When someone listens to you well, it makes you feel accepted, understood, important, valued and validated. It gives you a voice to help you find yourself again. It reminds you that you are not invisible or alone.

Although we hear with our ears, many of us don’t necessarily listen to what is being said. We don’t get the chance to listen when we are too quickly reacting, judging, providing solutions, and disagreeing, rather than being a good sounding board.

We also don’t get to see a lot of examples of real listening because it is so rare.

So what does it take to be a good listener?

It starts by realizing how important and powerful this practice can be. Also, realize that it’s all about the other person. If you can put aside your own agenda, you’ll be able to focus on really hearing.

That means 80% of the time you listen patiently without interrupting, and the remaining 20% you reflect what you heard and ask questions to get more information about the situation.

When you are an active or mindful listener, you are fully present, not thinking about the past or the future. With full concentration, you can recognize that, as Bryan Bell wrote, “It is frequently not what the facts are, but what people think the facts are, which is truly important. There is benefit in learning what someone else’s concept of the reality of the situation is.”

Check in with yourself: Are you aware of your focus level? How long can you concentrate without your thoughts drifting off?

Good listeners not only concentrate on the words, they also look for nonverbal communication like pitch, tone, and rhythm. Look for the hidden feelings behind the words, and find what might inspire, excite, and free them up.

Be curious and ask questions to get more information, “How do you feel about this? How would you resolve this?” Paraphrase what you hear to confirm you understand.

Many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request.”  Phillip Stanhope

The best listening skill is to be non-judgmental. When you judge someone when they’re talking, the other person often shuts down. Non-judgmental listening gives the other person a sense of freedom and acceptance.

Listening benefits the listener as well. It helps build trust, avoid misunderstanding, and above all it’s a true gift which you can share to uplift people.

Take the time to really listen today, and see how it changes other people’s lives—and yours.

Photo by mikebaird

Avatar of Dhara Jani

About Dhara Jani

Dhara Jani is a Life Coach at DailyRising.com. She coaches clients who are seeking to create a happy, authentic and holistic lives.

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  • http://droppingtheact.blogspot.com/ Taryn

    I really appreciate this post. It is so true that most people do not know how to effectively listen but the value in validating someone’s feelings can be immeasurable. Thank you for the reminder to LISTEN – not just hear :)

  • Sandra

    Beautiful post. I’m in a very difficult phase right now and have no one who wants to listen to me. I don’t want to whine and complain but it hurts so much to feel invisible… I’m waiting for the universe to send me a listener!

  • Dhara

    Please write or call me.  I would like to help you.  http://www.dailyrising.com

  • Goldendart

    I am in a similar situation,Would be happy to listen :)  goldendart@gmail.com

  • Sweet_emina_t

    Great post and I really connected with it today. Thank you for the message! It was well written and it defiantly gave me motivation to move on..

    xo

  • Dhara

    Thank you for reading and your kind words.  So glad that you connected with the story. 

  • Dhara

    yes, it’s incredibly powerful just to listen and to validate and reflect back. 

  • tots4sho

    Excellent post, I love what was said about being non-judgmental. Had to send that to my sister as we were just conversing about how we don’t talk to our brother much anymore because he’s so judgmental. These posts always have a way of intersecting my life’s issues; I’m so thankful for TinyBuddha :)

  • melissa

    so much insight on one of my current goals for becoming a real person… thank you :)

  • Dhara

    Thank you, you’re welcome, :)

  • Dhara

    :) agree being in a space of non-judgmental is incredible feeling. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001642911068 Jen Nguyen

    Ah this had so much to do with how I have been feeling lately. I have been having lots of trouble with my parents and they just never took my emotions into consideration. Encountered friends who were the same as well. So I tended to keep EVERYTHING to myself, and I mean everything: emotions, issues, experiences, etc… feeling people do not care.

  • http://starfirenz.livejournal.com/ Starfire

    One of the best gifts I think we can give other people is the space to *not* be OK – to listen to what’s actually happening for them at that moment without trying to fix it for them, offer our 2c worth of how *we’d* handle the problem, or pass judgement on either them or their circumstances.

    The one thing I find difficult though is reflective listening and paraphrasing – perhaps because I *hate* it when someone obviously does that to me when I’m talking to them.  Hearing someone paraphrase everything I’ve just said back to me immediately makes me feel as though I’m being “managed” rather than listened to, and so I find it difficult to do skillfully and naturally with someone else.  I’m not sure whether it’s something I just need to get used to, or whether it’s something that’s never going to work for me…

  • Dhara

    I think if someone listens really well and gives space to express completely and then when they paraphrase, it actually helps a lot.  If they start to paraphrase before you can complete then it might get annoying.  Also, it’s not just that when someone paraphrase they are just repeating back your actual words, they can use their intuition and express other things too like your tone, feelings, expressions, etc.   

  • Dhara

    all it takes really is finding that one person, a friend who is a good listener and by your example teaching others in your family and friend circle to be a good listner.

  • http://big-zen.blogspot.com/ Big Zen

    Excellent post. Some people seem to be naturally skilful listeners but I think we can all learn these skills. The suggestions you make are really valuable, it’s amazing what you learn when you really listen.

  • Galengirl

    I have found that by being a good listener it helps you stay in tune with your inner voice. If you can’t listen and be present for others, how can you listen and be present for yourself?

  • Dhara

    yes, and it’s true also if u can listen and understand yourself, you can listen and understand others as well.  :)

  • Dhara

    Thanks, :)  so much to learn and feel when we really listen, true.

  • Missmorgan82

    Very Nice some things make more sense to me now thanks for sharing this one.

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    This is such a well-written post, and so true.  It’s SO rare to find someone who doesn’t try to fix things, pass judgement or bring their own issues into what you’re saying, and who just lets you speak.  It is completely life-changing when you find someone who is able to do that.  There’s also a difference between someone listening and actually *hearing* you.  I try to always keep this in mind when I have the chance to fill that role for someone else, because I know how much difference it has made for me.

  • Jenny

    I usually agree 100% with this, but had a recent experience that made me question the subtleties of this kind of relationship between two people (not to mention my own judgment).  I thought I met a “good listener” until I realized that I had “assumed an understanding” that apparently wasn’t there.  A “good listener” who maintains distance and refuses to be willing to engage as another full human being with emotions and failings feels like invasion, an exploitation, a paid psychotherapist.  I can’t quite pinpoint the difference–and I know there is one that is significant–between a good listener and one who listens without the ability to be vulnerable or with some sort of ulterior motive.  In looking back I can see the difference in the relationships I have with those who are good listeners and those who aren’t, but in the moment…when I make myself vulnerable and trust another to respond with care and respect…it reminds me of the courage it takes to reach out and trust when we can’t know the outcome…and how we need to give ourselves credit for being able to do this thing that some refuse to do because it can be so scary.  I believe the best listeners have been on this side of the equation as well and know they might be again and are able to integrate that compassion into their listening.

  • http://www.rebuildyourlifecoach.com Harriet Cabelly

    Beautiful piece on listening.  I’ve written about this too as in the above photo with the two chairs and water. This is so important and so ‘underutilized’.  The world would be a better place if we could all become better listeners.  This should be part of the educational curriculum across the board. 

  • Miister47

    Thank you so much for sharing this…People tells me i’m a good listener…but still, i tend to put my own personal experience in this. And i know i’m doing it and each time i tell myself…dammit you shouldn’t do that. What you say is so true. It make me realise the importance of being a true listener…I’ll try to take that in consideration and be a much better listener in the future…

  • Pingback: How to Help Someone Feel Loved and Understood | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In | Girlfriend Voice | Scoop.it

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  • Shazza_47

    Though i find it hard to continueslly listen when i’m never getting heard yourself…

  • Chris

    The first of the Buddha’s Noble Truths is: There is
    suffering. We must live carrying our emotions in a state of readiness to be
    hurt in small ways at any moment. For example: we must not adopt an
    invulnerable “hero” stance, trying to copy Gary Cooper or Charlton Heston; that’s
    just silly, but more importantly it is false; none of us is above failure. Keep
    a quiet, kind manner; not noisy or self assertive. This habit, a willingness to
    feel painful feelings, will allow you, when called upon, to listen deeply to
    another and to feel whatever suffering that person is describing in him/her
    self. You must be willing to suffer what they are suffering. Then you can be a
    comfort to them. Words from you might not even be necessary to enable him/her
    to feel and deal with the pain. A dog doesn’t need to talk to you; he just
    needs to push his nose into your hand to show his awareness of your feelings, when you are feeling down, for you to be
    comforted.
    Later, after all this, you might find something to say that helps the person’s situation. But don’t rely on it; it’s not the important part. 

  • stamani

    I loved this post very much. It is a great piece about listening abilities.

    I’m a man, and my listening skills needs allot of imporvements. I’ve just learned to listen (not just hear) a few monthes ago…

    I want to share two comments:

    1. A very cool trick that I read about somewhere says that if you’d like to encourage someone talk more, you can just repeat the last two-three words he said with interest, or ask about something he said before. Example:

    A: I’ve went to NY to see a show.

    B: To see a show?

    A: Yes it was on broadway,… the music… I liked it very much

    B (option1): Very much?

    B (option2): Did you mention there was good music?

    You get the point… It works like magic

    2. It is very important to listen, but it is also important to be listened too. Make sure that your relationships always include being listened too, and also offer your listening skills back. (I believe in reciprocality)

  • beach bugg

    Thank you for sharing! Just a couple of hours ago I was laying in a fetal position crying from my soul because I feel so alone, misunderstood and unheard by the people that love me but don’t know how to just simply listen to me while I’m battling major depression, severe
    anxiety and PTSD….

  • B.

    Beautiful post.

  • Betty Frausto

    Dear Dhara, you are an amazing inspiration to me. I can relate to everything you share in this informative and well written article. May you continue doing the work you were meant to do. With deep gratitude,
    Betty

  • Justino Rodrigues

    “It is frequently not what the facts are, but what people think the facts are, which is truly important. There is benefit in learning what someone else’s concept of the reality of the situation is.”

    Once, someone said to me something like this and… changed my life perspective of life and improved my relationship with some people very important to me. I’m very gratefull for that. It’s was not so long time ago though. I still have many “bad habits” to fight. But…things take time and experience as usual.

    But, because somethimes we forget some lessons previously learned, this article is what I really needed to “listen” today.

  • JW McCabe

    I totally understand! It can be overwhelming can it not..

  • Rosida Macualy

    I want to share this testimony in fulfillment to my vow to
    the prophet that helped my case. i was happily
    married for 4years and blessed with two children some how i
    got into some troubles with my husband issues that He would
    overlook before He beat me up and left me and the kids
    leaving us with no source of revenue i tried several means to
    get him back yet no positive outcome. After a while i was
    left with no option than to request for a divorce even though
    i loved him like my life. Because he had some connections he
    turned me down until i read an article were a woman gave a
    testimony on similar issue so i contacted the prophet who
    helped me with the case and i won it. I decided to testify so
    that people can also gain from me the way i gained from that
    article i read so here is the prophets email in case you have
    any problem or similar case. prophetjakula@gmail.com/……..

  • Jason Holborn

    I’ve been told that I am a good listener – tho personally, I disagree! :-) I need to improve and work on the skill. Paraphrasing back what I’ve heard to confirm an understanding is probably the only real listening skill I have truly learned enough to always have with me, however, it is a good one.
    It was also cool to read about your listener who changed your life.

  • Jason Holborn

    “The best listening skill is to be non-judgmental.”
    - This is the one I most need to improve upon and eventually master.

  • chris60

    Most of us fail to listen during moments when we feel overwhelmed or anxious. Perhaps the hardest thing to hear or understand when you are feeling down or upset is that others really do care about you and want to help, but sometimes are unsure what would help you most. Good listening involves reflecting back the feelings more than the content of words, and to be able to listen to the underlying feeling requires you being in tune with such feelings yourself. That is why the more you suffer, the more you can hear and understand similar reverberations in another person who is struggling to make sense of something incredibly painful and confusing. all of us want to feel happy and content, but life also brings pockets of deep despair and suffering, and the ability to survive such crises is what enhances our appreciation of humanity. Personally, while no-one likes a cry-baby or whiner, the insistence on appearing fine and happy can detract from people being honest with other people. The positive movement does a lot of damage by refusing to allow people to access, express or process supposedly negative feelings like rage, and grief and agony. being able to access these deeply wounded pockets actually helps a person feel more alive instead of wandering through life like phony Pollyannas. I think we have become too sanatised and fail to appreciate that all feelings are good and healthy, and the suppression of a feeling merely makes it go underground to cause damage and wreak havoc with our personal relationships. most of us flinch in the face of raw emotions, but sometimes they need to be held and felt and expressed to allow a person to find their core and start again. Kind of like oxy-welding off all the damage incurred from painful interactions and encounters until you arrive back at your self again. Those who have undergone extensive therapy realise that at heart, when all the debris clears, we remain whole and complete but merely dented and damaged by hostile events or mistakes and bad interactions in our life. Ultimately, once we have calmed down, we find that what we thought was true may be a lie. That is why learning to remain centred helps to ride the storm if you feel overwhelmed by someone else’s feelings or your own. We owe it to ourselves to listen deeply to our own wants and needs and feelings instead of relying on another person to be our sounding board or personal punching bag. Most people are struggling to keep a hold on their lives and few have the skill or energy to be a life buoy to someone floundering alongside them. Hence the need to make sure you are fine yourself before venturing out to help someone else, or the two of you will risk drowning together. Depression is often a sign that you need to slow down and rest, reduce the stress or avoid a stressor, and the body will soon regain its equilibrium. Listen to your body and the mind will gradually clear itself. Sometimes other people have a knack of understanding you better than yourself as they are outside the maelstrom of intense emotions that are making you confused. Personally, I get really annoyed when someone tells me I am feeling something that I am not, or banning me from expressing a feeling that I sorely need or long to express. Scream into the wind, and the anger lifts; cry into your pillow and the stress shifts; above all, evoke memories of loving faces and happy moments if you want to shift from feeling down to happy. emotions are weird and wonderful allies and enemies depending on whether you use them to enhance or block your life.

  • Molly

    This works well if the person’s brain is not altered by drugs.