“How are you?”
It’s an exchange that probably happens numerous times per second across the globe, subject to the nuances of translation. What often gets lost, however, is the sense of authenticity from each speaker.
I was fortunate enough to see Alain de Botton speak at a leadership conference earlier this year and he talked so elegantly about the meaning of love. He asked us to look below the surface and see what was really going on with people (I’m paraphrasing, obviously) – to see beyond fear, aggression, withdrawal (or however fear seems to metamorphose) and to listen deeply.
We hear anecdotally from mums, dads and health professionals that the more mercurial aspects of perinatal mental illness can be difficult to detect. To pick up on shades of fear or sadness requires finely-tuned emotional intelligence. Parents in the midst of it all can find themselves masking their symptoms in a bid to appear well; to look like they are holding it all together. Health professionals can be easily persuaded by a convincing ‘performance’, especially if they are, themselves, unable to imbue the question with real empathy. As with most communication, it’s so much more about the how than the what when it comes to the exchange of words.
In this year’s debut Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week, coordinated by the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership, Stephanie de Giorgio hosted a FB Live stream and as a GP she talked personally and professionally with such beautiful candour about the importance of asking the right questions and really listening. If we let go of fear of judgement and allow ourselves to be wholly present in these moments, to speak from the heart and to listen with all our attention, then we might find that people feel understood and that things don’t get lost in translation.
As human beings we are motivated by primary drivers that may not even be apparent to us. We’re unwittingly governed by fear to the extent that we reinvent our emotions to protect a highly vulnerable core sense of self. I took part in #pndhour this week and was overwhelmed by the honest and heartfelt conversations spilling down my timeline. In a discussion about the pressure of PND on relationships, so many men and women talked about miscommunication – whether deliberate or not. Many people divulged that they withdrew from their most meaningful relationships when feeling really poorly and ‘exposed’. Evidently that primal fear is at large during these instances, prompting us to ‘close shop’ and shut down in a bid for self protection.
But what would happen if we took Alain’s advice and looked below the ‘face value’ exchanges to see what was really occurring? Instead of choosing to see aloofness, anger, resentment (or whatever duplicitous disguise fear chooses to adopt in that moment)…we might see fellow human beings feeling lost, alone and fearful.
Learning to listen isn’t just about giving people air-space. It’s about going beyond words and sensing the emotion behind them and it’s about engaging our deepest, intuitive selves and opening our hearts to what we witness.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment