Tag Archives: The art of listening

So not self-helpful…

I think I may have PTSD when it comes to self-help books, books on migraines, or generally any written device intended to explain to me how to make my current state in life better.

I have been trying to unwrap why I loathe self-help lately and I have hit upon a theory. It’s a relatively new theory so bear with me but here we go.

Ours is a society of the quick fix. If we have a cold and can’t sleep we take NyQuil. If we have a cold and need to go to work we take DayQuil. What we don’t do is rest long enough for our bodies to battle the cold on their own.

Due to our quick fix mentality we have a tendency to offer solutions to the people in our lives who express problems. We rarely actually commiserate. It’s not because we don’t feel sympathy or even empathy for them, but our language of caring has morphed over time from listening and empathizing to offering solutions.

As a migraine sufferer I have had a lot of experience on the receiving end of solutions. It doesn’t bother me from friends or family but it’s the complete strangers that make me crazy. Usually when I meet someone and they find out I have migraines I get asked my entire medical history by someone without a medical degree because their fourth cousin once removed has migraines and maybe they can mention something my nationally recognized neurologist hasn’t thought of yet. It is exhausting and not a way I want to spend one of the rare times I actually leave my house to go out into the world.

I think this is why I hate self-help mechanisms. Rather than listening to each other, talking about our feelings, and creating deep, strong bonds of friendship we are offering other people’s takes on our interpretations of someone else’s problem.

Meet someone at a party going through a divorce? Offer them this book. Got a brother with MS? Here’s a book on how one person worked through their experience with it. Children being… children? Here’s a book on how to parent in a way the person who wrote the book likes most.

Now I am not saying seeking self-help is a bad thing. Personally, if you want to read books on parenting, relationships, investing, whatever medical diseases you may have, and that helps you handle life, go for it with my blessing! There is nothing wrong in my mind about seeking out information.

What upsets me is offering these unsolicited solutions to others in lieu of care.

I get it, caring is hard. It’s time consuming, it takes real listening and empathizing to truly succeed at it and none of us have the time or the energy.

Is that last part true though? Would we find consoling someone less tiring if we did it more often? Could it be we are out of practice and therefore it seems more tiring and time consuming then it truly is?

Here’s my truth: My best memories are from times when I opened up my mind and heart and joined someone in their hardships. Really joined them. Crawled down into the hole they were stuck in and sat with them for a while. I have been blessed enough to build truly amazing relationships with people because I was simply sitting with them and listening when they were having a hard day.

Sometimes the way to be the most helpful is to offer no help whatsoever.