We all sometimes forget that Listening is an essential part of communication. We really aren’t taught how to listen and that it’s important. And, when we are dealing with someone else’s pain, listening becomes an especially difficult challenge.

There are three main reasons for this:

1. Empathy. We are social creatures by nature. Apparently, there are parts of the brain that help us tune into and feel the emotions of others. When we feel or hear another’s pain, not only do we usually have empathy for them, but that empathy can be uncomfortable for us. So, we try to reduce our own suffering by dismissing them, interrupting them, or not paying real attention to what they say.

Now, when that person is your own child, we feel their problems and pain as our own. So empathy is on steroids! Our adult children are not really ours…they are us. So, we suffer with them, or for them.

2. Control. We go immediately into problem-solving mode. We want to fix and get rid of their pain fast. To hear or even think about our children’s pain is really difficult and causes us suffering.

3. Fear. Addiction draws us into a lot we don’t want to deal with. So, we can become afraid to listen. We fear our children will ask us for something we don’t want to give, and it will be hard to say no.

Here’s the problem with not listening, though:

When someone tells us their pain, they want to receive compassion. They want to be heard and seen.

Now, I know that addiction often wants other things to: to manipulate, to receive enabling, etc.

But we don’t need to give anything but compassion. We can express concern and sadness for their pain, without doing anything else. When we start to fix and control, we actually break the emotional connection with the other person.

So, next time you want to jump in and “fix” your adult child’s pain, can you just listen for a bit? Can you express that you heard them and care about their pain, without trying to make it go away?

Two easy techniques that can make this less comfortable are:

  1. Getting out of your mind and into your senses: Feel and pay attention to your feet on the floor when an uncomfortable conversation is beginning. This may sound silly, but having some of our attention in what we are sensing in an extremity can keep our minds from being completely hooked by fear and other negative thoughts that make it more difficult to listen.
  2. Pay attention to your breath during the conversation – if that’s not overwhelming for you. This is another way of anchoring your attention, and it can also come with an intention to “breathe in” compassion for yourself, and “breathe out” compassion for the person to whom you are listening.

And, lastly, remember to be patient with yourself, because it is much easier said than done. However, it does get easier with intentional practice.