Feeling heard is a basic human need. Alongside food, shelter and water. We need to have our feelings validated. And, whilst some may shake their head in disagreement. It’s all there in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: love and belonging. When someone acknowledges how we feel; we feel part of a bigger picture. And who doesn’t want to feel a part of something?
Think back to a time when you had some strong or mixed feelings. And someone really listened to you. You possibly described the experience as “they really got me” or “they really understood what I was going through”. This feeling of being gotten is powerful stuff.
The opportunity to talk and be heard is often a cathartic experience. Catharsis is from the Greek katharsis which literally means a cleansing or purification. When we offload emotion, and crucially, are heard, it helps rid ourselves of negativity or toxic feelings. Even if having someone hear us doesn’t solve the problem. Just the action of being understood can be incredible.
The Benefits of Feeling Heard
So, being heard can make us feel better. Most of us will crave that kind of human understanding from time to time. Some of us, more than others. And there’s good reason for it.
- When we feel heard, we’ve built a connection to someone. It may be someone we already know and trust. Occasionally, it’s to or with someone we don’t know at all. But there is often comfort to be found in the company of strangers (safely, of course). We know that feeling a part of something is crucial to our mental health. It helps combat loneliness which can have serious consequences for both our physical and mental health.
- Closely related to the above, when we are heard we feel less alone. Or like we’re not the only ones. How many of us have turned to music and lyrics? Seeking comfort in a song which mirrors our feelings. We want to know that we’re not alone in feeling the way we do. There’s comfort, or safety, in numbers. But also, knowing people have been their before suggests there are people out their who will understand us. And possibly people who can help too.
- A lot of emotional support is offered when we are heard. Empathy, literally feeling with people, can be far more useful than trying to fix someone’s problem. And often it’s what we do first. From the goodness of our hearts, our instinct as human’s is to make something better. And we think that means finding solutions to a problem. Firstly, when we jump to ‘fix-it mode’ we forget to listen. And we’re in danger of making the situation about us. Rather than the person we’re trying to help. Secondly, always solving a problem for someone can cause learned helplessness and ongoing reliance on others. Providing emotional support through empathy and listening. And guiding them to a solution and empowering them to do it themselves is far better. In doing so we increase their confidence, independence and resilience.
- When we feel heard in a relationship, we build trust. Which, as many of us know, is crucial to a relationship’s longevity. Intimacy is incredibly hard to come by when trust is lacking. But the ability to be vulnerable with another human. And share the darkest or most troublesome parts of ourselves, lives within trust.
- Rejection can have many of us stopping before we start. Whether it’s asking someone out, starting a conversation with someone new, attempting a new look or sharing something personal with someone. Rejection can have us second guessing ourselves and can be detrimental to our self-esteem. Sending us on a spiral where we gradually find fault with every part of us. But the opposite of rejection is acceptance. It’s found when we are heard. It’s the reason why having our emotions acknowledged builds connection, fosters trust and can boost self-esteem and confidence. Alongside improving relationships and increasing both mental and physical health. Like I said before, it’s powerful stuff.
For The Crucial Difference Between Empathy & Sympathy read here.
How to Feel Heard
It’s all well and good to know the benefits of feeling heard. Hopefully some of the above made sense or resonated with you. But I reckon you already knew that you wanted to feel heard. And why you needed it.
We all have our own reasons and unique parts of our lives where we don’t feel heard. It may be in a relationship with a romantic partner or spouse. Or perhaps advocating for ourselves with our parents. Work or the professional arena may be where we struggle to feel heard. Or advocating for ourselves when we feel deskilled or underestimated. So, how to we raise our voices and navigate the need to feel heard?
#1 Know Why
I know I’ve already said you probably know why you want to feel heard. It makes us feel better and that really is enough. But that feeling of not being accepted, acknowledged, validated etc. needs to be pinned down. Which part of your life or with whom do you feel this way? The need to feel heard in personal areas of your life will need a different approach to advocating for yourself at work.
For 4 Ways to Check In With Yourself read here.
Many of us are profoundly lucky to have even one, if not more, people we can turn to when we need support. And we really need to acknowledge this privilege. But even when we have these people in our lives. The difference between ‘should’ be able to talk to. And actually being able to can be huge. Perhaps you can think of someone who would be horrified if you told them you’d had an awful day/night and you hadn’t called. They’d probably say “I’m always there for you” or “You know you can always call me”. And whilst logically we may know this. Being able to take that step can feel impossible when inconvenient emotions or negative thoughts get in the way.
For myself, at times I most need someone to talk to, is when my mind tries to convince me that I am the most alone. So, think about who you can talk to. And if need be, remind yourself of their offers to talk. If it’s in a text or an email. Save it. And look at it when you most need to. But, if there are times when you feel like you really can’t talk to them. Have the number of a helpline saved in your phone. It might not be as good as someone you know well. But just the act of talking can tide us over. After all, the people at the end of those phones are trained to listen effectively.
For The 11 Tips You Need to Listen Effectively read here.
#3 You Deserve It
It’s easy to bury ourselves in the proverbial sand of other people’s woes. In order to avoid our own. It can be an incredibly effective distraction mechanism. But it harms us by leaving our thoughts and feelings unheard. Whilst we go about the daily task of listening to everyone else’s. Remember that everyone deserves to feel heard. You probably listen to everyone else because you believe this. And you’re no exception. You’re not a burden. And you’re not inconveniencing someone by asking them to listen.
If the person you turn to is making you feel this way. It’s on them and their inability to listen. Rather than you’re request to feel heard. I attended a talk where a GP said “everyone is allowed to find things difficult”. We all struggle at times and we need to give ourselves permission to do so too. Whilst others may have things harder than us, that doesn’t negate what we’re going through. Remember. You deserve to feel heard.
For How to Say No to Protect Your Mental Health read here.
#4 Advocate for Yourself.
Sometimes you do have to metaphorically raise your voice to feel heard. Whilst shouting is never the way to go. Being assertive can give force to your words even when spoken gently. And make people sit up and listen. At work this could mean calling out behaviour you’re uncomfortable with. You may want to think about who is the correct person to raise the issue with. Write down what you want to say and practice it a few times. Ask a colleague to be an ally.
In Personal Situations…
But in personal situations, we have a right to raise that voice too. If you don’t like how you’re being spoken to. Firmly guide the person in the right direction. Don’t call them out in public but perhaps mention it to them later. Less is often more with words. And if you need some distance and time, to let off some steam, then do so. Something as simple as “I found that joke a bit insensitive. I’d prefer we didn’t joke about that again”. Remember ‘I’ statements are your friend.
Remember, no matter the situation, we have a right to be heard in all parts of our lives. We probably all know someone who doesn’t listen well. When we speak to them, we feel dismissed or even guilty for our feelings. We can advocate for ourselves here too. The other day I told someone I was finding something hard. They replied with the standard “Everyone is finding that hard”. It’s the equivalent of when you wouldn’t eat your food as a child. And your parents told you there were children starving in Africa. It didn’t suddenly make you hungry or like the meal in front of you. The aim was simply to make you feel guilty. And no-one should make us feel guilty for how we feel.
#5 Be Reasonable
Not feeling heard can leave the best of us feeling at our worst. It can be a terribly isolating and lonely experience. But, if you are reaching out, and I hope that you do. Remember that everyone is entitled to be busy or unavailable. And whilst that can be heart breaking if we’ve struggled to reach out in the first place. It’s ok to persevere.
Explain that you understand that they’re busy. But could you speak another time? It’s truly better for someone to listen when they have the time and won’t be too distracted to pay attention. Hopefully when you reach out, if the person cannot be available immediately, they will offer another time. But remember, if they don’t, you can ask. You have the right to be heard.
#6 Eliminate the Toxic
This applies both to the people in your life who may never be understanding or accepting. As well as your own possibly negative feelings about yourself. But first things first. If you don’t feel better after talking to certain people. And you try and guide them to what would suit you better. You could try saying: “I appreciate your suggestions to solve the problem. But at the moment I just need to talk about how I feel”.
But if advocating doesn’t work. It’s ok to find someone else to talk to. Even if this person always speaks to you about how they feel. It doesn’t automatically mean they are the right person to talk to. Or sometimes they may be the right person for certain situations but not all situations. It’s ok to not always talk to the same person or to the person you feel closest too. We may wish to talk to someone we don’t know as well or someone we don’t know at all. Rather than a spouse, partner, family member or friend who would assume they were our first port of call.
Secondly, it’s usually when we’re having difficult emotions or feelings that we most need to talk. If something is holding you back. A lack of self-confidence? The belief that no-one will care? Fear of being a burden? Worried what people with think or how they will act? Or any other troublesome feeling or thought process. Acknowledge these emotions and remind yourself how good it can feel to be heard. Remind yourself of a time someone really listened to you and you felt better. Or when someone complimented you or you felt connected to someone. Remembering these will help convince you to reach out for that support.
#7 Let It Out
We need to feel heard one way or another. And the best way is by talking to another human being or a group of people. But, if this isn’t an option, you can still let the emotions out in creative ways. It won’t necessarily make you feel heard but it might relieve some of the emotional pressure we’re feeling. Hopefully until we can be listened to by someone and understood. But having said that, don’t forget that creativity can speak volumes. Think again about the impact of a song and how it can make you feel. Or a picture. Or a poem. Be creative and if you feel ready share your work with others. It can be a profound way to connect with people and their response can make you feel heard in a different way.
For A Guide to Prioritizing Self-Care read here.
What are your thoughts on feeling heard? What helps you feel understood and listened too? Let us know below!