In the first part of this three-part series, Adam S. McHugh, author of The Listening Life (as well as Introverts in the Church), differentiates between the external attention you typically offer others (e.g, through eye contact and posture) and the deeper level of inner attention. He also describes the “transformative power of being heard” as well as the inverse relationship between listening and power. Lastly, he highlights the importance of truly stepping into the shoes of others. In this second part, McHugh shares his insights about how to listen deeply to yourself, including a refreshing way to manage your negative self-talk as well as the importance of hearing what your body is trying to tell you.

NA: You focus not only on listening to others, but also listening deeply to what we say to ourselves, to those voices we have in our head. Many of us want to silence them as quickly as we can. Interestingly, you recommend something quite different. You encourage “loving your enemy voices.” Would you say more about this?

ASM: What takes place inside yourself matters and has meaning. Your thoughts, emotions, impulses, desires, values, passions, dreams, recurring questions, and bodily responses are significant; they are trying to teach you and are all interconnected. This sounds basic, but we spend so much energy trying to ignore the voices in our heads. We dismiss or reject our emotions, we anesthetize the internal voices with food, alcohol, and distraction, and we tell ourselves that our dreams are unrealistic or unattainable.

One common solution to this is our attempt to silence the bad voices in our heads. Mute the internal critic, the naysayer, the doubter, the unbeliever. But I believe that trying to silence them gives them more power over us. Our subconscious voices always hold the most sway over us.

A therapist I saw for a couple of years gave me this exercise, which felt silly at first, but has become central to my internal dialogue. When a negative voice speaks in your head, greet it. “Oh, hello, Anxiety” or “Whassup, Doubt?” If you greet the negative voices just like you would greet a person, you acknowledge them and you name them. Naming something gives you power over it. You’re not judging the voice or attempting to silence it. Acknowledging its presence is step 1, and then, step 2 is asking it what it has to teach you.

For example, Anxiety often pulls up a chair when you are doing something new or significant. It is not a voice to be simply pushed aside. If you listen to it, and so love the internal voices, you are on your way to becoming a more complete and balanced person. You love the enemy voices to the point that they become friends.

NA: That approach makes sense. On another note, what do you mean by listening to your body?

ASM: This is an area I am trying to grow in. I am inclined to dwell in my head and ignore or reduce what is happening in my body. For people like me, getting a little older may be a good thing because you get to a point where your body starts to talk louder. When you’re 20, you can ignore your body when you’re tired; when you’re 40, not so much.

Our bodies have a wisdom to them; the more we listen to our bodies, the wiser we become. Our bodies give us clues when we are hungry and when we are not, when we are exhausted and when we are energized, when we are stressed and when we are relaxed. Our bodies so often seem to know things before the rest of us does. We may be wrestling with a decision in our minds, but our bodies may have already made a choice by the way it feels when it entertains a particular option. We also experience emotions in our bodies—the tightness of the stomach, the sweat on the forehead, the lightness of our step, the temptation to dance. So if we can listen to our bodies better, we can also hear our emotions more accurately.

In part 3, McHugh and I will discuss his thoughts on challenges and opportunities for introverts as listeners.

Copyright 2017 © Nancy Ancowitz

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