In these emotionally trying and tense times, you might be finding it difficult to know your role when it comes to allyship. Here are some active listening techniques that I use as a therapist when I’m empathizing and engaging with my clients in session.
1. Don’t interrupt.
The black population in America experiences complex trauma in their daily lives through intergenerational trauma, racism, and systematic oppression, among others. Those who suffer from complex PTSD have a tendency to feel unheard, unseen, and unable to make change. When you interrupt your black friends, this reinforces the cognitive distortion that their voices are not as important as yours.
2. Don’t try to relate by sharing something about yourself.
You might think that you’re trying to show your friend that you can empathize but all this does is invalidate your friend by taking the spotlight off them and putting it on you. Again, this perpetuates the assumption that black people are not as important as you.
3. Reflect back.
Instead, learn how to reflect back. This can look like:
“I see and hear your pain. You must be going through a lot right now. I’m sorry for all that you’re going through.”
4. Validate your friend.
Comfort your friend by validating their feelings and experience. This can look like:
“Racism is another virus that we need to eradicate. What you’re feeling is completely valid. This country is unfair and I will advocate for you.”
5. Don’t try and fill the silence.
It’s okay to sit in silence. It’s okay to sit with discomfort. These are triggering topics and your friends may need more time to articulate their thoughts. Try out other ways to comfort your friend in silence, like a pat on the shoulder, a hug, or even a change in facial expression. There are so many ways of communicating besides speaking. Learn to use them.
These are some listening tools that I use in session with clients. Try them out with your friends and notice the difference when you actively listen to your loved ones.