Empathy and mental health are closely linked. Without the ability to understand others, you’re not as well-equipped to help someone who’s experiencing things you’re unable to relate with. By learning and practicing some active listening techniques, you have a much better chance of guiding someone who’s in a mental health crisis toward the help they need. This guide reviews some useful active listening tips.
The Desire to Be Seen or Heard Is an Innate Need
Humans are a social species, which means it’s natural for us not only to seek approval from other people but also to be recognized. Whenever someone doesn’t feel validated, they may subconsciously seek ways to be heard or seen. This could manifest itself in numerous dangerous or confrontational behaviors.
Some of the coping mechanisms people turn to may lead them down a path to dependency. They could begin to drink more frequently or try illegal street drugs to numb themselves. This is because they feel trapped, unheard and invisible. One of the ways you can help someone in this situation is to learn how to be an empathetic listener.
Why Empathy Can Be Difficult
Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is experiencing on an emotional level. At its core, this could be painful when you’re trying to relate to someone who’s suffering. You’re forced to experience the pain with them, and that can place you outside of your comfort zone.
Some other reasons it’s difficult to be empathetic include:
Lack of Relatable Experiences
There may be many times you’re unable to empathize with another person because you have no clue what they’re going through. You’ve never experienced it yourself, and so you don’t truly know how difficult it is or what emotions are at play. This leads to miscommunication and inaccurate assumptions.
Many media outlets focus on the negative. This means we’re constantly bombarded by horrific stories, and we numb ourselves because it drags us down when we care too deeply about what’s happening in the world. We want to focus on the things that are within our control, such as our careers, home lives and personal relationships. This makes us more likely to dismiss someone who’s suffering as well, because “other people have it worse.”
The Need to Solve Other People’s Problems
Some people are natural problem-solvers and instantly try to come up with solutions to other people’s problems. The issue here is that while they’re offering potential solutions, they’re not actually taking the time to understand the core causes of the issue or listen to the person confiding in them. When we don’t feel heard, we’re more likely to put our walls up and are less receptive to advice.
Tips for Active Listening
Active empathetic listening is a form of problem-focused listening you can use to let someone know you understand what they’re going through. Empathy and mental illness recovery are closely linked because someone who’s anxious, depressed or manic needs to realize they’re not the only person who’s experienced what they’re going through. These tips can help you become a better ally to someone in need.
Let the Person Speak Without Offering Advice
Therapists aware of the connection between empathy and mental health often ask questions and simply allow their patients to develop their own conclusions. Rather than offering solutions, show that you’re hearing the other person by repeating what they’ve said in different words. For example, when someone is expressing that they don’t feel their hard work is being recognized at work, you could say something like, “So what I’m hearing is that you’d like to hear ‘thank you’ every once in a while.”
Try to Draw From Similar Experiences in Your Own Life
While you may not have encountered the same experience in your life as someone else, you can often find parallels to other experiences. This can help you glean important insight into what emotions someone has about what they’re describing in their own life.
Expand Your Own Horizons
One way to be able to relate with more people is to deliberately try to interact with people who aren’t like you. When you attempt to learn more about different cultures and beliefs, you can discover the commonalities you share with others.
Use Body Language to Show You’re Paying Attention
People can quickly pick up on signs that you’re disinterested, but you may need to be more obvious about showing you care and understand. Be aware of your posture and make sure it’s open and inviting. Avoid crossing your arms or looking away.
Nodding occasionally can convey that you understand. Also, pay attention to the other person’s body language to see how comfortable they are sharing with you.
Avoid making statements that come across as confrontational or defamatory. When you shame someone for what they’re going through, it not only makes them feel defensive but reduces the chance they’ll confide in you in the future. Studies have shown that you’re much more likely to get through to someone if you refrain from judgment, shaming or attempting to convince someone to do what you think they should.
What to Do in a Crisis
If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, it’s important to let them know you’re there for them and to know when the situation is beyond your own abilities. Try to help them make the decision to seek help on their own by listening to them and giving them information they can review so that they make the choice on their own. If you fear someone is going to do something that will put their life or health at risk, consider directing them to a crisis line or calling 911.
When Professional Help Is the Best Solution
The team at Restore is trained in active listening and other techniques that recognize the correlation between empathy and mental health. If you or someone you care about is struggling with a mental health crisis or addiction, we can help. Contact us today using our contact form, or call (877) 810-2074 to speak with a team member so you don’t have to face what you’re going through alone.