Updated: Sep 14, 2021
I used to think I was the world's best listener. Growing up my mother taught me that people like to talk about themselves and it’s loving to listen but I didn’t know yet that healthy relationships also need give and take. Instead, I thought that love in a friendship was if I could make it 100 percent about the other person. It didn’t feel hard when it seemed like everyone’s need was greater than mine. For instance, if a friend shared that her dog died and then asked me how I was doing, I felt silly sharing my disappointment that my roommate ate my cereal that morning.
Instead, I created a habit of deflecting, or putting the attention back on the other person, thinking love was always to minimize myself and focus on them. When people shared their pain, I internally ranked it as more important than what I was experiencing, as if what I had to share was not deserving to be on the table. I imagined it like a battlefield where there was a wounded soldier who had their arm blasted off and then there was me with a hangnail. In light of the wounded soldier’s pain, my hangnail didn’t matter. Come to find out, we are hardwired for connection and one of our core needs is attention. Although this can be referred to as selfish in some religious cultures, God Himself created you with a need for attention. If you feel uncomfortable when people pay you attention or sacrifice for you, I would encourage you to explore that. See for me, I thought I was being noble, but I came to realize that my motive was unhealthy. Underneath it all, I wrongly believed that because my need or pain was smaller, it was less important than that of someone else.
I remember feeling anxious thinking I was “taking from someone” without having a need worthy enough. It didn’t feel right unless we were focusing on them. Personally, I didn’t think this was a problem until multiple friends confronted me about it. “Kara, you come across as if you have no need. I don’t know how to relate to you. I don’t even know anything about you.” What I thought was love actually cut off connection and intimacy. It might be helpful to clarify: there are definitely times when it is extremely appropriate to put yourself aside and focus on the other person.
This is an act of love. This article is written to all the listeners, caretakers and mothers who are very, very accustomed to sacrificing for others and sometimes they forget that they matter too. The depth of your pain and needs does not determine its significance. In fact, inviting others into your pain, no matter how small, is one of the greatest honors you can offer. Let me explain. Friends who have gone through grief shared with me the principle that sometimes when people are in pain, it is helpful to have the distraction of focusing on someone else as well as relief knowing they are not the only one struggling.
Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. Share the blessing by making your needs known and choosing to receive without hesitation. You may find yourself wanting to share in a conversation but not believe the other person really cares. After interviewing multiple ‘talkers,’ I learned that people often want to hear your story and connect with you but they just don’t know what to ask.
For the majority of my life I had lived waiting for someone to ask me a question until I came to learn they were just waiting for me to share. I learned I am solely responsible for how much I choose to show up in my relationships and share what’s on my heart.
I began to watch others freely share - just genuinely believing the other person cared enough to hear. Overall, people want to support you. Do you believe that? People want to support you. We may think that listening but not fully showing up in our relationships is loving, but it cheapens the relationship and doesn’t create true connection.
When I’ve chosen to share, trusting others wanted to support me, it has transformed mediocre relationships to deeply satisfying connections. Friends to whom I thought I could only give, stepped up and supported and loved me, and I learned to receive from them. I remembered thinking, “I could have had this all along!” Consistently downplaying your needs, desires or thoughts can be a protective measure. If you recognize this in yourself, I challenge you this next week to step out from behind the wall and let yourself be known. Communicate a need to trusted ones and invite them to meet your needs, even if it’s just by listening to you. You being fully present in the relationship, which is a gift in and of itself, will impact others. In love,