“You saved my life!” “I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.” “You pulled me out of the darkness.” “Thanks for listening.” “No one else seems to understand or care.” “Thank you for not judging me.”
I often hear these phrases from people with whom I come into contact. Many of them are clients, because I am a mental health professional. But some of them are friends, family members, co-workers, classmates, or strangers I might meet in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. I guess you could say I have the face of someone who is easy to talk to, but I also think I have learned the art of non-judgmental active listening that makes for a desirable platform for self-disclosure from other people.
Although I did not miraculously wake up with this ability, I began to develop sensitivity to others’ feelings in high school, mainly through the training of the local peer mediation program, designed to teach and apply conflict resolution and problem solving skills among peers who are in conflict with each other. This laid the foundation for me to be approachable for people who are hurting and looking for a listening ear.
If you have ever been affected by suicide, either through experiencing a loved one who has died by suicide, or if you, yourself, have contemplated or attempted to take your own life, then you know how important it is to have someone sit with you in your pain without tossing out harsh or judgmental words, body language or facial expressions.
Being nonjudgmental of another person is critical to building an emotional bond, paving the way for openness and self-disclosure. Allowing a person to experience their own feelings without being told they “shouldn’t feel” a certain way or they “should feel” another way brings them closer to feeling validated and not so alone. Many people who are hurting feel an intense amount of guilt because they heard someone somewhere say their feelings were not appropriate. It is only a matter of time before that hurting person stops telling others their true feelings and covers them up to avoid judgment.
Suicide deaths are on the rise. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, almost 45,000 people die from suicide each year1. As the new facilitator of the Suicide Grievers Support Group here in Ashland, I encourage you all to heighten your awareness of how you respond to people who are grieving or hurting. If you fear you might say or do something that could be unhelpful, sometimes the best response may be to sit in the silence with your loved one, embracing the very emotion that is causing them pain. The worst response is to leave them alone. Suggest that they call the 24-hour CRISIS HOTLINE at (419) 289-6111 or 1-888-400-8500. If you think your loved one is about to act on their suicidal thoughts, don’t wait! Call 9-1-1 for immediate help. Never place yourself in danger by being near a suicidal person who has a weapon