One of the most valuable treasures a person can have is a great friendship: where two people can talk to each other and feel listened to and understood. No one's judging! Such a relationship is very special.

In today's world, we oftentimes are so busy talking about ourselves or others that we leave little room for listening. And when I say listening, I mean opening one's ears to hear, understand and empathize, not to "fix" a friend's problem. There's a trap that's easy to fall into: the urge to jump in and tell a person how to correct a complicated situation.

It's important to know when to just listen…to really grasp what's being said. It's OK to ask questions when there are pauses. Verify what you understood, so your friend can tell you if that's really what he/she was trying to say. Sometimes, a person just needs a listening ear, someone who takes care to verify that he or she correctly understands the situation.

Don't be too surprised if, when you try this, the other person expresses the situation more clearly the second time…or the third time. Sometimes the speaker comes up with a potential resolution to the situation without your even having made suggestions! If not, then you may try seeking a resolution that involves your friend's participation and is fair to you both.

A close relationship like that above allows a person to share his/her most intimate selves with another, someone who allows you to be open, to feel free to express thoughts, to really be understood without judgment. Such relationships, which thrive on open communication, can make the difference between existential loneliness and a deep sense of belonging. Many of my patients express the genuine need to feel heard, understood, and loved, and clear communication makes this possible. We all need a caring atmosphere to help us think things through more calmly.

When there's no one who will listen, one can feel very alone, not knowing where to turn when feeling stressed, frustrated and isolated. Personal feelings can be very difficult to share; sometimes our attempts can serve only to confuse a listener, further complicating the situation.

Many of us do not have that treasured friend with whom we feel comfortable sharing our innermost thoughts. There is always risk involved in seeking that atmosphere of acceptance and empathy, but expressing oneself honestly and clearly is an essential starting point toward developing a healthier lifestyle.

In helping others express themselves more fully, I will often have the client express thoughts in writing in order to get a clear and concise understanding of what he/she wants to say. We role play in our sessions, each playing the "other" role in order to gain further insight into clear expression. The focus of the exercise is to create a comfortable environment with open communication and understanding. That can mean the difference between existential loneliness versus that deep sense of belonging that we all need.

I'm here for you if you need me.

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