I Just Want to Be Heard

This is a common complaint in marriage and other partnerships including business and family – “Just listen to me. Don’t try to solve my problems. Just be quiet and listen.”

Seems simple enough until you parse the verb a bit. What does listening mean? Different things to different people so it turns out.

Parents, especially moms, talk about active listening and passive listening with their children. Active listening is when you engage the speaker with your verbal summaries, concluding thoughts, various attempts at empathy, nods and affirmative grunts. Passive listening is when you pay attention but say not much, just vector in, eye-to-eye. I like the latter kind of listening a lot more. But there are other definitions of listening as well.

The other day in my office someone said, “I just want to be heard.” Here is what she seemed to mean:

  1. First, listen deeply and thoroughly to my point of view.
  2. Second, accept my point of view as true or at least more true than yours.
  3. Third, change your thinking and behaviour in accordance with my point of view.
  4. Fourth, advocate for my point of view that you now thoroughly endorse.

Otherwise, I will not feel heard, she seemed to be saying. In fact, she did not feel heard or understood in her family of origin (that is, her growing up family), in her marriage and also felt that her pastor minimized her thoughtfulness. She felt alone, misunderstood and antagonized by various other non-hearers.

Sometimes we can ask to be listened to when what we want is to be agreed with. Different.

“The Female Brain”

I am reading “The Female Brain” (2007) by Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco and founder of the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic. I had read “The Male Brain” (same author) and felt understood – now that is a compliment. But as well, a bit boxed in without the freedoms and capacities I think that men have. However, it is probably timely to understand my wife and so I have launched into her older book on “The Female Brain.”

Here are some of the things I have read, enjoyed and wrestled with:

(1) “Men use about seven thousand words per day. Women use about twenty-thousand words per day.” I know that Carole often asks me, “What are you thinking” when I don’t really have any words for my thoughts. In fact, I am not sure I am thinking at all. More cognitively muttering.

(2) “Girls arrive already wired as girls and boys arrive already wired as boys.” This is certainly the case for my 2.5-year old grandson. Loves trucks, shouting his “outside voice” around the dinner table, playing pirates with a hooked finger and a mean sounding “grrr” (taught to him by his aunt) – if this is part of what it is to be a boy toddler then he seems to have been born this way.

(3) “Men are on average twenty times more aggressive than women.” Makes no sense to me at all. I have talked with lots of female client-friends who are the clear aggressors in their parenting and marriage. And their husbands / partners / kids agree. Seems more personality-driven than gender-caused.

(4) “Girls are motivated — on a molecular and neurological level — to ease and prevent social conflict.” Interesting. I am aware that men are often domesticated by women, especially in marriage and so become less competitive over time. But many men are “rescuers” in relationships equipped with a dominant fear of harming the significant other.

(5) “85% of twenty to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds and women think about it once a day – up to three or four times on fertile days.” No wonder math scores are plummeting. Actually, I have heard this so often I think it must be a suburban myth. What I do know is that men can control their thoughts and lusts however frequent and that this self-control reduces the obsessional, minute-by-minute interruptions. I don’t think that most men are victims to their sexual impulses.

(6) “Men pick up the subtle signs of sadness in a female face only 40 percent of the time, whereas women can pick up these signs 90 percent of the time.” Maybe for some men but it is not true for me. And I am aware that men can learn to discern faces and the differences between sadness and tiredness, or hurt and anger.

(7) “65 percent of divorces after the age of fifty are initiated by women.” A divorce initiation, by a man or a woman, is a response to something else, usually a hurt or a harm. Subjectively I think that men typically break covenant for another relationship, probably sexualized, while women break covenant for peace and quiet or differentiation (“find out who I am again”).

The thesis of this book is that the female brain sees the world differently and reacts differently than the male brain in every stage of life from newborn to old age. Sweeping in its generalizations, I feel like I know women less by Brizendine’s research or at least I have to think more about what I think about men and women.

(1) I think that men and women are not “opposites” but “equal others.” Opposite-thinking looks for differences, creates misunderstanding and minimizes similarities.

(2) I think that men and women have strengths and abilities based on context, culture, circumstance and that both or either can lead or submit (the latter I see as a great strength), create or appreciate, initiate or complement.

(3) I think that emotional-sexual resourcefulness is distributed to the species in a higgledy-piggledy way with men typically being the sexual initiators (80%?) and women typically being the emotional initators (80%?). This is more of a clinical guess than research. And we can learn and practice and benefit from the other’s strengths.

There is a wonderful King James description in the Bible about men and women in relationship. “Helpmate” is the ancient word. It means help appropriate to another or resourcefulness sufficient for another. I think that man is sufficient for a woman and woman is sufficient for a man and they can be more than sufficient by empowering each other. More than hormonal or biological differences.

A Husband’s Hope

When I saw you cry
today
at the psychologist’s
— you were so vulnerable and sad —
I wanted to catch each tear with my tongue
but also to stop the pain
or at least help you feel your way
through
and beyond it
to us
again
(Anonymous to you but known to us)

Hurt, Harm and Help (“One RingyDingy”)

Hurt is inevitable, predictable and measureable. It is part of what it is to be human. Some hurts are trifling (like being middle-fingered by a fellow highway traveler who dislikes one’s lane-changing creativity is a level 1 hurt) and some are terrible (I think of my friend’s recurring cancer – this is a level 10 hurt).

The other day a mean-spirited and wicked driver (the words are in italics because that is not exactly what I shouted at the time) cut me off, gave me the finger, stamped on his brakes and shocked me and my cute Mini Cooper into less than “British racing green” subservience. This experience hurt my normally sweet nature, but no harm was to be found on my soul.

Until I considered this intentional insult a little bit further and then much harm was discovered just below the surface. I pondered, “Why do people pick on me when I am such a saint?” (I actually don’t think this in my more knowing moments) and “He could have killed me; must have been drunk!” etc.

And then I felt justified sufficiently to be wounded, harmed even.

Of course, talking to my friends didn’t help. “Paddy you are such a great driver,” some said and then I was reassured that the hurt I experienced was definitely intentional and, almost, “spiritual warfare” (this said by my biblical friends who find a devil under every muffler and bumper).

An old lesson I have re-discovered: I judge others by their behaviours (especially the evil ones, e.g. middle fingers) and I judge myself on the basis of my good intent (e.g. being a “saint,” which I don’t really believe as I have said above).

Hurts don’t necessarily lead to harms unless you give them a big, fat promotion. Harms have to do with how you inflate the hurts. Magnify your hurts, treasure them as horribly special and, sure enough, you will have florid harms. Plenty of them in fact.

So what is the help here? It comes from the world-renowned philosopher, Lily Tomlin, (you can see her on this classic You Tube, “One RingyDingy”) who said, “forgiveness is giving up the hope of having a better past.” Even a better driving-the-highway past.

Okay. Healing to me.