Sensitive people are gifted at deep listening, and we naturally offer this gift to others. But we also need to make sure we receive lots of deep listening ourselves.
I haven’t met a cat who could resist catnip. And I haven’t met a highly sensitive person who could resist a deep, meaningful connection with another person. We crave listening and being listened to because it helps us connect to our inner truth—that is, to our spiritual selves.
To understand how this inner dynamic operates, we first need to grasp that our HSP energy takes a different path towards action than it does for non-HSPs. Non-HSPs prefer to act, then evaluate the results. For HSPs, by contrast, the willingness to act typically comes only after we’ve had time to deeply process the possible consequences of the action. I call this pattern the introspection/action loop.
In addition, HSPs also need processing time to recover from the overarousal we experience when we are exposed to more stimuli than our nervous systems can handle. In this case, processing helps restore our inner peace, which is both a prerequisite to and a manifestation of spiritual connection.
Either way, though, we need to process. It’s our nature to take in many subtle details and aspects of our world and of our experiences, and we need a way to digest all that so we can discern the right way forward. This “right way forward” is another manifestation of our connection to our spiritual selves.
No wonder we need deep listening: it helps us connect to our inner truth. In the same way, when we listen deeply to others, we help them connect to their truth. Both are catnip for us. Given or received, deep listening meets our need for meaning, as we participate in an exchange that helps us live our values in the world and helps others do the same.
How does listening relate to self-connection?
Why do we need each other for this listening? Can’t we just go inside and think? Yes, of course. But with the right kind of listening, we can go much deeper. And, with issues that are complex or intense, we may need company to make any headway at all.
Do you remember the movie Apollo 13? Thousands of miles out in space, the three astronauts face imminent suffocation due to the failure of a CO2 filter. Back at Mission Control, Ed Harris orders the crew-cut engineering team to find a way to fit a square peg into a round hole.
The engineers rush off to find boxes containing duplicates of every object the astronauts have on board. And then—they dump all the boxes out onto a big table.
That’s what deep listening can do for an HSP. Being deeply listened to is like having a big table on which you can spread out your “stuff.” In fact, it is even better than that. Some of our inner processes simply can’t form “inside the box,” but given enough space, they can expand so we can see or sense them more clearly.
Compared to that, trying to process complex issues by yourself is like rummaging in a box full of stuff. All the objects are tangled together, hampering your ability to separate them. You can’t see clearly. You get frustrated. And you end up out of alignment with our values.
When we lose touch with our values, HSPs can easily become anxious or depressed. We are environmentally susceptible, after all, and this is as true of our internal environment as it is true of our external one. At times like this, we need the support of a good listener who can create a friendly “environment” for us.
HSP spirituality and the need for meaning
Highly sensitive people are hardwired to look for meaning, beyond the basics of “who,” “what,” and “when.” We are deeply concerned with “Why?” and “What are the implications of this?” and “What is the meaning of this for me, others, the world?” And, like the Apollo 13 engineers, we are constantly asking ourselves, “What can I make out of all this?”
Here we come to yet another connection between deep listening and HSP spirituality. Because we are always looking for deeper meaning, life is an ongoing spiritual unfolding for us. We can’t help it. You can’t keep looking for deeper meaning without bumping into the spiritual.
By “spiritual,” I don’t necessarily mean “religious.” You may be, but you may not. For an HSP, living spiritually means staying in touch with your inner knowing so you can live in integrity with your highest values. The labels you put on the process don’t matter, as long as you engage in it.
The three listening commitments
The listening practice that supports connection to meaning is an eminently practical expression of daily spirituality. To listen this way, the Listener must make three commitments:
- Maintain the attitude that what the Speaker is sharing is sacred—that is, “entitled to reverence and respect.” When you enter this sacred space, check your own reactions, comments, judgments, stories, advice and reassurances at the door so you can focus entirely on the %meaning or essence of what is being said.
- Be patient. Take time to make sure you’ve heard what the Speaker meant to say. Don’t assume you’ve heard the Speaker accurately until you have actively confirmed it. This will require you to reflect or paraphrase what you’ve heard. You may need several tries before the Speaker says, “Yes, that’s it.”
- Firmly plant yourself in an attitude of nonjudgmental acceptance and curiosity towards the Speaker. When you are in the Listener role, whether or not you agree with the Speaker is beside the point. If you disagree, remind yourself that acceptance does not equal agreement. Commit yourself to remain open and curious about the meaning their words have for them.
To maintain this stance of reverent respect, nonjudgmental acceptance, and curiosity, you will need to cultivate the quality of sacred stubbornness. The Oxford Languages dictionary defines “stubborn” as “having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so.”
You will need exactly that kind of stubbornness to succeed as a listener. You have to stubbornly refuse to change your position of respectful acceptance, even when your mind wants to go tearing off on its own track, or if the Speaker says things you wildly disagree with.
The fruits of listening
When you do succeed in listening this way, you’ll see just how powerfully it affects the Speaker. Likewise, when it’s your turn to be deeply heard, you’ll experience the effect this deceptively simple act has on you.
When you are deeply heard, you feel literally encouraged. Your heart—ton coeur, as a French speaker would say—has been received and held. You may feel peace, relief, clarity, or galvanized energy.
Try this: have a conversation with someone close to you. Take turns being the Listener. Follow the three commitments above. Observe for yourself that when you have support in connecting to your sacred sense of inner rightness, you feel energized and enlivened. Like catnip, the feeling is irresistible.
If you are highly sensitive, making sure you provide yourself with regular opportunities to be deeply heard is an essential form of self-care, helping you stay connected to your spirituality. However, all human beings love to be attentively listened to. Because we are particularly good at it, sensitive people can offer this gift to others as well as seeking it for ourselves.
To take this gift a step further, we can strive to listen in this way all the time—especially with those people who are unable to return the favor. When we listen deeply to another person, we take a concrete step towards seeing the sacred in them….and seeing the sacred in every human being is the only road to peace.
I’m not saying this is easy. For a sensitive person—tending, as we do, to take things deeply to heart—the practice of sacred stubbornness can be very challenging. We will succeed sometimes, and fail spectacularly at other times. We’ll spend a lifetime attempting this sacred feat. But the rewards are great.