Do You Hear Me?
How Deep Listening Leads to Meaningful Support
We’re talking about “deep listening” this month because feeling seen/heard in your life leads to greater personal satisfaction. In addition to facing a range of feelings in October (breast cancer awareness month), those of us in the Pacific Northwest also face the shift to shorter days and rainy weather, which affects our health. Being aware of how to support yourself, and how others can support you, can make a difference in the quality of your life.
To receive meaningful support as you manage cancer:
* Please TRUST/LISTEN to your own inner voice
* ENCOURAGE your family/friends to hear your fears, wishes, and needs
What is Deep Listening?
Deep listening means being truly present to the person speaking, paying close attention to what they are saying, along with their body language. And more than just listening, deep listening means putting judgment aside, staying open to receiving new information, and being determined to understand the person who is speaking. You are not thinking about how you will respond, or preplanning how to “fix” what is being shared; you are holding space for the person to share their thoughts and be sincerely heard. Especially when that person is YOU!
Trust Your Inner Voice
If you’re not already, practice deep listening with yourself. Set judgment aside, and use the information your mind and body share with you to determine what’s important to you.
After a breast cancer diagnosis, trusting your body (or inner voice) may be tricky:
- Find a Safe Space. If your loved ones are not a safe space for you to be heard, enlist a therapist (or life coach) to help you explore, prioritize, and communicate your needs.
- Get Curious. Does something feel off? Does something feel like the next right thing? Talk through (or write out) what the feeling/instinct is, and explore why it’s bubbling to the top of your thoughts.
- Prioritize. We can’t get to everything on our many lists, so prioritize your needs. Figuring out what you need (and want) means you can focus the help other people give you, too.
- Be Persistent. Feel empowered to pursue your best care. If you want the MRI instead of the mammogram, if you need appointments only on certain days/times, if you want a second opinion: keep asking for/demanding what works best for you.
- Be Gentle. Don’t apologize for having feelings or needs. Your feelings and priorities are so valid, yet overly critical thoughts can derail us. Your inner voice may be self-aware and reflective, but hopefully not cruel. Speak to yourself like you would a beloved friend who is working through challenges.
Allow Support From Others, On Your Terms
As you work through your own deep listening, use the information to tell your loved ones (and medical team) what support really means for you. Know that people love you, and their idea of support may run the range from amazing to misguided. You do not have to allow your doctors or your family/friends to “help” you if that help actually hurts you, causes you stress, or dismisses the reality of your experience.
- Be Specific. Coming up with ways for others to help you can feel daunting; it puts the work back on you! If people are offering to help, and you can’t stand someone in your laundry room, ask them to drop off soup instead. If your hospital time goes faster with a friend, or your dog needs walking while you are at long appointments, say what you need. Being able to communicate that your family needs pizza on Fridays, or you want the house to yourself on Wednesdays, means you will be more satisfied with the help you allow.
- Set Boundaries. When you know what’s important to you, and how you want to spend your time (and with who), setting boundaries becomes more clear. Ruthlessly do what matters to you. Some people may not like your boundaries, but don’t give up on your goals and dreams. Take the time to redirect people. Try, “You want to support me, and I value both of our time and energy, so I’m wondering if you’d consider doing X instead of Y? Here’s the goal you’re helping me with. Are you able to help me this way?” If people are helping you to be performative (they want credit/validation at your expense), or are unwilling to recognize that their “help” is harmful, it’s OK to ask them to stop.
- Start to Heal. The cancer experience includes loss/grief, which needs to be witnessed and expressed to process. Those moments where someone gives you their undivided attention, validates your experience, and you know you are not alone, are so important to your healing.
- Celebrate What Works. Take the time to be proud of yourself when you speak up and get what you need. Good job, you! Take time to thank people for the most meaningful support (a heart emoji or “thank you” text suffices). Share those success stories with others so they understand examples of how being heard translates into feeling supported.
Whether you are deep listening to yourself, asking for that presence from others, or giving your own time, the gift of deep listening is so profound. When people are not listening to you, find the strength to redirect them (or take a break until you have the energy). Feel empowered to ask for the experience (personally and medically) that works best for you.
For cancer education courses and naturopathic consultation options, please contact Dr. Laura James ND, FABNO, online.