At Samaritans, we seek to listen and to understand. We help people open up about how they might be feeling by questioning, reacting, summarising, reflecting, clarifying and encouraging: listening to them in a way that encourages authentic conversation.
This can work just as well for self-exploration as it can when speaking to others, and it can help us to access and process our emotions. We can all learn to better listen to our own internal dialogue so that we can become more aware of what’s going on within ourselves.
Good listening is about being interested in and focused on the person you are listening to: curious about what things feel like for them, accepting of what they tell you, and supporting them to keep going. Being properly listened to encourages someone to look at the small details in their own words: their passing comment or flippant reply can often mask something more significant. Why don’t we try to do the same for ourselves? While we might be aware of the big ideas that tend to hog all our brain space, let’s learn to listen to and register the smaller details that might have been part of our mind clutter.
Listening is active rather than passive. It takes time, care and attention. Self-care is no different, and we need to get into the habit of prioritising it in order to build good routines of awareness and acceptance. Listen to your body, listen to your thoughts, listen to your feelings. What are they telling you? Remember to look after your own mind as a priority and know that it is always possible to move forwards and find your way through difficult situations.
Our ‘SHUSH’ tips are an easy way of remembering the main points of active listening – let’s see if we can apply them to listening to ourselves in the same way we would when listening to someone else.
S – Show you care
H – Have patience
U – Use open questions
S – Say it back
H – Have courage
SHOW YOU CARE
Make time for yourself, in which you can focus your full, undivided attention on you and only you. Show yourself how much you care by prioritising yourself. Switch off from distractions. Life can be extremely busy, and in this age of constant digital connectivity, multitasking has become the norm. We love our phones, but it’s important to set yours to one side once in a while. Try to really focus on learning something new about you. Become aware of what your body and mind are doing and what you might be thinking or feeling. The aim here is to identify and accept your own thoughts and emotions, then understand how to respond to them with empathy and without judgement.
HOW WILL YOU SHOW YOURSELF YOU CARE?
For example, giving myself time to journal/switching off my phone/taking a break and going outside.
It may take time and several attempts at putting pen to paper before you get anywhere. Keep trying to find new ways of exploring your thoughts in a way that is comfortable for you. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t yet know how to do this – treat yourself with compassion and patience, and remind yourself that this is a safe space for you to note down whatever you want to, whenever you want to. There is no rush. It might take a while before you are able to articulate what you’re feeling. Try and relax into the process and just see what happens. Treat yourself with the same care and kindness you would show others when asking what’s going on with them. Get into the good habit of telling yourself that whatever you are experiencing in this moment is real and valid.
USE OPEN QUESTIONS
Develop a good practice each day of asking yourself ‘How am I feeling?’ and ‘What am I thinking?’ Opening up about a problem can be difficult. You might not realise something is affecting you as much as it is – you might gloss over it, or try to hide the issue. You might not even know what the heart of the problem is until you have explored it. So find ways of being curious. Avoid asking yourself questions that will elicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, such as ‘Are you feeling OK?’ Instead, use open-ended questions, such as ‘How are you feeling today?’ Questions like this might open up new avenues rather than shutting down your thought process. Then try to elaborate – keep exploring. Keep thinking, ‘What else can I say about that?’
HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY?
Now elaborate by asking these open questions: When – ‘When did I realise I felt this way?’
Where – ‘Where did that happen?’ or ‘Where do I go when I start to feel like this?’
What – ‘What else happened?’ or ‘What do I think is making me feel this way?’
How – ‘How did that feel?’
SAY IT BACK
Write down your feelings. Get your thoughts out of your head by putting them on paper. Explore your feelings and create an impression of them. If it feels comfortable, read your words out loud to yourself (or someone else, if you’d like to). Often, hearing ourselves say something out loud can help us process our thoughts in a different way, because we hear it back differently. Reflect on what you’ve written or drawn (whether that’s your answers to the prompts above, or anywhere else in this journal), to check you understand what you’ve created. Clarify it if you need to. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Would you like to try expressing yourself in a different way? Try to really acknowledge everything you see in what you’ve written or drawn. This can help you understand the circumstances that surround your emotional responses.
Self-exploration might feel a little daunting. But rather than repressing an issue, have the confidence to open up. Think of these pages as a safe, neutral space where you can say whatever it is you want to without fear of judgement. And if you need some help to explore difficult issues that arise in a more structured way with someone else, check back to your personal plan on page 16-17. Remember not to be too harsh on your-self – sometimes, we are our own toughest critics! Give yourself a break from the pressure and strains of day-to-day life and prioritise a moment, no matter how small or how generous, in which to express yourself in whatever way you feel comfortable. Get into the habit of positive self-talk, reminding yourself that you can do this, you can connect with yourself, you can express how you’re feeling, and that self-care is a priority. Remind yourself that whatever comes up, it’s OK to feel the way you do, and you can take your time or step away if it ever feels too tricky.
THIS IS AN EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM PATHWAYS: YOUR JOURNEY TO EMOTIONAL WELLBEING BY KATIE COLOMBUS AND THE SAMARITAN ENTERPRISES LIMITED