I have already implied on several occasions that I don't trust easily. I like to keep a lot of my thoughts, feelings and experiences to myself. It can feel like a loss of control and self-ownership to share myself emotionally. When I do decide that I can really talk to someone, the way they listen and respond to my voice lets me know if I can continue to trust them.
Having said this, sometimes the kindest, most supportive people just aren't the greatest listeners. As someone who really struggles with feeling valid and respected I can tell you that even the best intentions can have lasting negative impacts.
Here are some things to consider when you're being a listener:
1. Refrain From Evaluating And Qualifying Someone's Feelings
Not everything needs to be labeled "good" vs. "bad", "positive" vs. "negative", etc. Binary evaluations of people's experiences are kind of like saying "welp, we've figured this one out now so let's move on". People are so much more complex than that. Plus, this person asked for your ears, not your opinion.
2. Not Being Afraid Of Silence
Opening up can be really overwhelming. Sometimes I don't know how to articulate the mess of thoughts running around in my head, especially under pressure. A really good listener isn't intimidated by sitting in the silence for a bit and allowing time for composure.
3. Knowing When To Not Relate Someone Else's Situation To Your Own
You might have experienced something similar to what I'm going through. You might have well-meaning wisdom and advice to offer that can sometimes be helpful to hear. However, you do have to acknowledge that our mental states and emotional capacities are all unique, and projecting yourself into someone else's experience can feel condescending and dismissive.
4. Asking Questions Instead Of Making Declarative Statements
This can be problematic if the topic is sensitive and the questions are invasive, but I'd rather be asked to clarify or elaborate on something than have my listener make assumptions and draw inadequate conclusions.
5. Admitting A Lack Of Understanding
I usually don't even understand how and why I feel what I feel, so I don't expect others to either. I don't think that you're incompetent if you say that you don't know what to say or that you don't completely understand what I'm feeling. People aren't always looking for answers. Sometimes it's just about having someone else acknowledge your reality.
6. Not Telling Someone How They Should Feel In A Certain Situation
You can disagree all you want with how I feel about something, but that doesn't mean you should tell me that my feelings are wrong. There is nothing more isolating than working up the courage to share something with someone and then having them respond by saying that I shouldn't be feeling that way. Besides, your opinion probably won't change the fact that I still feel what I'm feeling.
7. Not Taking Someone's Emotions Personally
Of course this depends on context, but don't be offended if I'm showing you a pretty dark place. Chances are if I thought that I could confide in you, the sadness/anger/guilt/etc., that I am expressing isn't your fault.
It's an honor if someone comes to you for emotional support. This means they feel safe in your presence. This means they want you to know them on a deeper level. This means they trust you won't abuse or neglect the parts of them that you now hold. Also, you don't need to have all the answers to be a good listener. You just need to be willing to put your opinions and experiences on the back burner for a few and allow others to take up space. Don't take someone's emotional vulnerability for granted. You have no way of knowing just how much it might have taken them to come to you.