Colleagues on lunch break“Really listening is like dying for a minute” Michael L. Alvarez, MFT

You can make the art of listening work for you in your recovery.  Practicing real listening gives us a chance to practice basic recovery skills.

Addicts and people with intimacy issues are not particularly good at listening to other people.  Really listening to someone demands a level of awareness and a kind of attending that every addict needs to acquire.

Why listening is like love

When you really listen to someone it means that the person you are listening to is more important at that moment than any other need, opinion, motivation or preoccupation you might have.  That person is, for that time, the center of your attention and of your universe.

This is true whether you are in a relationship with the person or whether you never saw them before in your life.

When you make someone the center of your attention in this way the other person is likely to sense that you are giving totally of yourself.  In a way you have let go of your own sense of separateness and immersed yourself in them.

The recovery skills involved in listening

    1. Really listening involves letting go of judging the other person.  Judging puts what they say into categories, like true-false, nice-mean, etc.  In really listening you suspend judging and accept the person where they are.
    2. Really listening involves setting aside your own egotistical needs.  You cannot pay attention to someone if you are busy planning the next brilliant thing you are going to say.  If you do the latter you will be hearing just enough of what they say to prompt your answer and you will be mostly preoccupied with being right, smart, one up etc.
    3. Really listening to someone is impossible if you have an agenda.  If you go into a situation with a desired outcome in mind (like wanting them to like you) you will filter and slant what you are hearing in terms of its value as a means to an end.  This takes you way away from them.  The listening has to become an end in itself.
    4. Really listening requires mindfulness in the sense of being present.  This is a state of being that takes place inside of you, one of giving your entire consciousness over to what you are hearing.  Physical presence helps but it is not really necessary.  You can be in a state of alert presence even in a phone call or exchange of texts.  You are aware of what is going on right at this moment.
    5. Really listening is never just about the words.  Listening does not depend on what the other person is saying.  In this sense it is unconditional.  If the other person is babbling nervously you may not hear what they are saying in terms of the words but you will be able to listen to them, to their state of mind.

Listening as spiritual practice

The result of practicing the art of listening helps the listener.  When we listen we are able to be mindful, to be accepting, to let go of outcomes, to be authentic and to be empathic.  Paying attention to someone or something in this way connects us to our fellow beings.

What do you do after you have listened?  Listening may be all that you do if no response is required.  But if you have really listened then what you say or don’t say will be likely to make the other person feel more connected and present as well.  Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource