Are You Good At Hearing?

“She’s not good at hearing people,” the musician Mikel Jollett writes of his mother in his haunting memoir Hollywood Park. “If we tell her we’re hungry, she’ll say, ‘No you’re not. You ate earlier.’ If one of us says ‘I’m sad,’ she tells us that it’s not true, that we’re happy now because we’re with her.”

Tragically, even in that observation, Mikel was illustrating the consequences of narcissism and emotional immaturity on children. “It’s strange for someone to tell you your own feelings,” Jollett, who would go on to form the band The Airborne Toxic Event, “but maybe she knows better than we do.” His mother could hear perfectly fine. She just couldn’t handle what she didn’t like.

Hopefully most of us aren’t this far gone, but many parents struggle with some version of this. We talked about this a while back when it comes to our children’s pain or their memories. They tell us that something upset them or that they didn’t like something that happened to them in their childhood…and because that indirectly indicts us–because it says that we didn’t do enough, that we weren’t perfect, that maybe we messed up–instead of hearing them, we argue. We tell them their feelings are wrong. We tell them they don’t get it.

This is gaslighting.

Even if it comes from a good place, it’s wrong…and deeply disorienting. Your children’s feelings are their feelings. We have to let them have their feelings, and that starts by hearing them when they express it. Repeating them back to them, letting them know that we registered it, and then doing our best to understand what it means. Not minimizing. Not coming up with excuses. Not even reassuring them that everything it’s fine and everything is going to be ok. Not until they know that we heard them and care…that comes first.

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