Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The invisible #2: Listening

It’s impossible to listen to someone else when you’re listening to yourself. “Listening to yourself” is not hearing words. It’s to be a life of unmet needs which importune silently, though with a felt hum, at all times. These needs can be painful, and the pain can be silent, too.

You can look at your children and believe you’re an attentive parent, and seem to be attentive, but your eyes and ears are really perceiving yourself. Your feeling or need is in the air and your child is taking that oxygen. For some “unmet” people, it can be painful, though subliminally, merely to entertain the consciousness of another person.

It is painful to put oneself aside – to be disappeared. Somehow it feels absolutely wrong, though objectively we “know” our neediness is not the only priority in the world. But the feeling that comes from a formative life of emotional starvation is of imminent, uncompromised urgency: We cannot not be there, even for a pause. We, incomplete, have no identity if our focus is on something outside of ourselves – someone else’s interests, someone else’s happiness; even a flower. Existence must be self-referential. Our child reflects upon us; a ballgame on TV feeds our inner child; music soothes our soul; helping a patient provides our narcissistic supplies; a job gives us credits; a walk in the forest or at night bathes our loneliness.  With unmet needs, we cannot not be self-referential, self-enclosed.

Why does incompleteness do this to us, make us locked in ourselves, a prison, unable to hear our son’s mistake as his own learning experience rather than as an impertinence or harm done to us? There is, in our childhood, a dissociation from the frustration when we were not given sustenance, and this dissociation makes us solipsistic: We drift off into the self. Look back at the feeling inside us, then. Pain had to be swallowed. No one looks at this impossibility in real-time: A boy or girl, essentially made to breathe a million hurts in but not out, is invisible to the world. If he never spoke in words, which give him a false appearance of presence, and never heard words, which make him respond as if present, we’d see a quiet thing, distracted in pain and injustice, standing still and receding into the past. That is, remaining frozen as time moves on. Later, he is thirty-five years old and has a son. But he’s still invisible, frozen, incomplete, dwelling in his childhood house waiting for things to be made right.

It is very hard to listen (and much harder to realize that you cannot). You hear others' voices, but they are only a thin melody riding above and given meaning by the harmonic drone of your need. You need to have had enough satisfaction, to already feel like a complete person, to be open in the moment to another person. You’d have to make yourself empty of need; to be in the world, to feel it, in a way, as dessert, not a meal for the starved.

Many clients don’t hear me, even though they are there to. I know they have never listened to their children.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.