Last night I was reminded of this subject, as I visited a friend who was busily making dinner. She bustles and putters and chops and spatters, doesn’t respond, and occasionally ‘shows interest’ by asking a ‘clarifying question’. Or more like a “what was that?” question. It’s hard to really hear, when you are focused on something else. I was not being heard – and I felt unheard.
My partner, on the other hand, doesn’t really care if he was heard – doesn’t wonder if he was –just assumes of course he was. That’s his ‘default’. Mine is to wait for someone’s attention, as I assume I will not be interesting enough to be heard at the best of times, let alone when someone is not paying attention.
Funny, these lifelong perspectives and habits-of-feeling we develop. At least these days I merely feel bored in this situation, and my mind wanders off to the world of ideas and dreams. I have a very active imagination – well-honed after a lifetime of frequent use.
But for some people, the need to feel heard is deep and desperate. It’s a straining, bursting-at-the-seams kind of need; an it’s-been-so-long-I-might-kill-myself kind of need. And there are so many people out there with this need, one could almost become a fulltime “volunteer listener”. I know there are some who just never stop talking – for whom the talking is probably an unconscious distancing of people – a barrier to intimacy. But for most, the bursting need is to talk about something pressing – like a feeling of injustice or unfairness, the need to feel affirmed, appreciated, perhaps even understood.
Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs” didn’t include the need to feel heard; but it would fit right in there among the more basic needs in life. How about right after food, or sleep?