Recipe for Action: How to Listen to a Survivor’s Story.

October 2, 2018

When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her. -Andrienne Rich 

The events of the past few weeks have on an excruciatingly visceral level shown us the raw power of telling and listening well to stories.

The survivor of a brutal attack told her story on national tv and thousands of women and men remembered their own stories of trauma. A powerful senator took the time to listen to a survivor and was moved to do the right thing.

The power of telling and listening to stories brings awareness, moves us and heals us – both the teller and listener. When we listen fully and receptively we show that we are part of a community of caring human beings, and we open our eyes to a fuller picture of the truth.

However, in our culture we often are more likely to have been taught to  dominate, question, and persuade, than to listen. But if we listen properly, we can build a community where compassion and empathy eventually replace dominance.

  • Be present: Make eye contact, lean in a bit, and breathe.
  • Be receptive: Nod with encouragement, ask “Is there more you’d like to say?”
  • Give of yourself: Go to where the storyteller takes you and listen well to the details.
  • Allow yourself to be moved: Notice any emotion the story is bringing up for you and breathe into it. Being moved by another’s pain is what being human is about.
  • Do not listen for a “point” to the story: There often isn’t one and you will miss out on important details when listening for something that may not be there.
  • Do not listen to critique or question the story. Criticism will shut down the story-teller and is the opposite of being open and receptive.
  • Notice what the story brings up for you. Do you also have a story to tell? Is your story fully formed or in fragments?

Sometimes our stories and feelings can be more than we can bear. If so, you may want to share your story with a professional. Here is the National Sexual Assault Hotline to call for support and encouragement 24 hours everyday: 1-800-656-4673

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