This past weekend I visited my brother-in-law who is in the hospital after suffering a stroke. He has a valve in his throat so he can breathe. As the nurse cleaned the skin around the valve he complained, “that hurts.” She responded, “No it doesn’t. I have to clean the wound.” He then looked agitated and yelled, “ouch” as she cleaned him. I looked at him and said, “The water feels cold and your skin is tender so it hurts a little, right?” He said, “Yes, it hurts.” Then he calmed down. Often what we need most is just to be listened to and have someone reflect our feelings or thoughts.
The nurse denied his pain and then explained why she was doing what she needed to do. This made him more agitated. We often respond without acknowledging the other person’s point of view or feelings. What that often creates is less understanding, more stress, a sense of isolation and often an escalation of distress. We find ways to yell, “ouch” louder in a more adamant attempt to be seen and heard.
In mirroring, you attend to what is being said and paraphrase what you hear. Here is another example from the hospital. My brother-in-law’s 7 year-old grandson was on his first visit to his grandpa’s bedside on the same evening that I was there. When he left the room after hugging Grandpa goodbye, I noticed that he looked very sad. I asked, “Is it hard to see Grandpa looking that way?” He nodded yes and said, “I feel sad.” I then mirrored, “You feel sad seeing Grandpa like that?” He said, “He looks different.” I responded, “he does look different and all those cords and machines are there to help him.” He sighed and seemed to cheer up as he scampered off to be nearer his older sister as we all left the hospital.
Look at the speaker and repeat their words, then pause and wait for their response. You can use phrases like, “It sounds like…” or, “It seems as if…” or, “What I hear you saying is…”. If they need more support, they will go deeper into feelings. If not, they will scamper off, hopefully feeling better.
Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.