The Power of Being Heard

Some thoughts after watching ‘The Listeners,” a documentary about the training of non-professional volunteer crises line workers who learn to handle calls on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Roughly paraphrased, one trainer said that a suicidal person needs to talk about two things: why they want to die, and why they want to live. But more than simply wanting to talk about these things, they need to experience that someone is truly hearing them. Another trainer said something that may seem contradictory to the first: that a person contemplating suicide doesn’t want to die so much as to stop experiencing what they are experiencing. These two perspectives combined would seem to imply that being heard somehow reduces the pain that is being experienced.

This makes sense to me in this way: the difference is between, on the one hand, experiencing pain at the periphery, while your solid secure sense of self is bravely enduring it, and on the other hand, when the pain is in fact the loss of a solid secure sense of self; you’re falling, out of control, with no defenses. Being heard, I think, helps by restoring the sense of self, to a place where YOU ARE solidly YOU, and you objectively HAVE pain, that is, at your periphery, with which you can learn to deal.

A third item that often goes into dealing with suicide, that I didn’t catch in the film, is the need to take further steps. A non-professional might refer the suicidal person to a professional. But in any case, plans need to be made for when one feels this way again, or better, for ways to avoid being in that position again. We want to believe that we, and the ones we love, live in a safe, secure place, both physically and emotionally and that there is, in fact, no ‘scary’. And, I believe, it mostly is safe and secure, varying in degree depending on your good fortune and privilege. But the ‘lions and tigers and bears’ of Life are a real and unavoidable part of being alive. And so the need to be an active and responsible Warrior is no less true in the most placid suburb today than it was in the days of the dawning of civilization.

by: David Savoie