People who have experienced sexual abuse often say they don’t feel heard or valued. How can you listen with care?

People who have experienced sexual abuse often say they don’t feel heard or valued. They suffer in silence, never allowing themselves to share their pain out of fear of rejection and shame. As the listener, it is crucial to create a safe environment for the person to be transparent and honest.

How can you listen with care?

Be fully present and focused.
Put your phone away, ignore external disturbances, make eye contact and lean in. Body language speaks volumes and is vital to building trust and showing empathy. Instead of thinking ahead to your response, listen intently to what they are sharing.

In The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations, authors Mary Schaller and John Crilly introduce the idea of relational listening and reflective listening. Relational listening allows the listener to ask questions, which fosters an exchange of feelings between people building connection through commitment and trust.

Reflective listening is where the listener takes a learner posture by paraphrasing their general understanding of what the person has shared for verification which, in turn, shows genuine interest. These skills allow the listener to hear the person’s words and heart.

Be prayerful throughout the conversation.
First Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray continually.” Prayer will prepare our hearts and bring comfort to the listener as they potentially hear something difficult. Keeping an attitude of prayer will “put a guard over my mouth so that I would only say what He would have me say” (Psalm 141:3). 

Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your responses with Scripture, wisdom and grace. We desire the listener’s response to come from the Lord so that it is appropriate and helpful, never rote or uncaring. Pray for the one sharing to have boldness, to have freedom from the hold abuse often has on victims, and to get help and utilize available resources.

Talk less and listen more. 
James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” When we listen more, our questions will come from a place of greater understanding and wisdom, which will allow the person to feel safe.

Come with a non-judgmental attitude. Victims of abuse often keep it a secret for a long time because they fear no one will believe them. If the person senses you don’t believe them, trust will be broken. To earn another’s confidence is a treasure. It may take years to earn, but only an instant to lose.

Don’t try to fix them. 
While actively listening, it will be a temptation to try and “fix” the situation. Although this is an innate response for us as Christians and leaders, that present moment might not be the right time. There will be a time where sharing others’ stories, resources and advice will be pertinent, but at the onset of the survivor’s sharing may not be that time. Intently listen to them share with no agenda except to support, encourage and help.

Practice listening with a partner. 
Would those who know you well call you a good listener? Why or why not? Try going a week without giving advice. Then think about what it was like to listen and participate in a conversation without offering any suggestions about what others should do. What was their response?

by NC Baptist communications

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been adapted from the Responding Well resource.