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  • Writer's pictureAcelli Crippen-Kok

Empathic Listening without Internalizing Emotions

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

We all want to be good friends. You happily lend a hand when your friend needs help moving…for the fifth time in two years…and take pizza as payment. You show up with paint rollers and beer when you know there’s a huge paint job that needs tackling. And you offer an ear for your friend to vent all their feelings to.

empathic listening internalizing emotions

Have you ever felt more drained after the vent sessions rather than after the physical jobs you assisted with? Yeah. It’s not surprising at all. When people vent feelings to a trusted friend in their circle, it’s the friend who is known to be empathetic and the one that really “gets them”. Which means, you’re more than likely internalizing emotions that aren’t yours to take on.

Stop Internalizing Emotions When People Vent Feelings

You can be a great friend that friends can dump their problems on, without internalizing their problems and emotions. Let them vent, actively listen and remain attentive and responsive to what they’re sharing with you. However, empathic listening does not mean you take on their problems and emotions. It just means you’re patient, never judge them and ask how you can help, or support them. But, how can you be an empathic listener without losing yourself in your friend’s emotional chaos?

Check in With Yourself

When you start to feel anxious, distressed and overwhelmed as you listen to your friend venting, take a deep breath. Ask yourself why you’re feeling this way. Then figure out what you need to do in that moment so you can help the person, which will help you recognize this person’s issues are NOT yours. Take care of your own emotional energy, so you can actually assist the person venting. Helping might just be listening, and letting your friend know you understand.

If you’re amped up and taking on their emotions, you can’t actually actively listen to them, or provide an empathetic response. It’s important to take a moment, get out of your own head and feelings, and return to listening.

Stop Trying to Fix Everything

If you’re a go-to for a friend to vent to, you’ve probably experienced empathic distress. It happens when you become so entrenched in your friend’s feelings and emotions that you begin to withdraw from them so you can protect yourself from overwhelming negative energy.

Why do you feel like you’re drowning as you’re listening to your friend vent to you? Most likely because you have been conditioned to fix things. You absorb all of this energy and emotion with an underlying sense of dread knowing you’re going to want to fix everything for them. In your brain, this friend’s problems are now yours, and it makes absolute sense that you want to fix everything to provide a taste of relief.

Stop that! The mess is not yours to clean up. Your only job is to listen, not judge them. All you need to do is support them in whatever they choose to do to solve their own problems or work through their own emotions.

  • Listen.

  • Validate their feelings.

  • Never judge them.

  • Offer support.

Suppressed Emotions Leads to Health Issues

When you have friends relying on you because you are capable of empathic listening, you may find yourself unable to disassociate yourself from their emotions and feelings. Unfortunately, friends often unload their crap on you, not realizing it makes them feel better but causes suffering for you. And then we don’t know what to do with the emotions and feelings we just took on as our own, and we end up suppressing emotions. Suppressed emotions, don’t go away, they aren’t healed just because you push them down deep.

And, unfortunately, your body doesn’t know how to differentiate between the stress caused by your emotions from your own experiences, and the emotions you’ve absorbed from someone else’s experiences. You need someone to work through these feelings, emotions, and thoughts. But who does the empathic listener go to for this before ending up with health issues?

A professional therapist, or counselor. We’re able to listen, and help you not just work through these extra emotions you’ve taken on, but we can also help guide you on how to handle your friend’s next vent session so you don’t continue internalizing emotions not meant for you! Reach out today to schedule your session with me.

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