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  • Writer's pictureJoan M Sotelo LMFT, LPC

Listening is truly an art, a skill set worthy of everyone’s intentional effort to attain. It is a master key to great relationships and the door to wisdom. So why is it so hard to do? Why do we struggle with this so important of a skill?

Most likely it’s because it wasn’t modeled for us and no one showed us how to be a great listener. Most of us want so much to be heard, seen, and understood that we get too focused on ourselves and forget to slow down and care about what others have to say to us. The truth is that the path to get what we truly want and need is by taking the road of truly caring to listen to others. As Theodore Rosevelt so eloquently put it, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan teach us a very important lesson in their book Becoming a Person of Influence:

“ A funny thing happens when you don’t make a practice of listening to people. They find others who will. Anytime employees, spouses, colleagues, children, or friends no longer believe they are being listened to, they seek out people who will give them what they want. Sometimes the consequences can be disastrous: the end of a friendship, lack of authority at work, lessened parental influence, or the breakdown of a marriage.”

Simply put: it is crucial that we choose to learn the art of listening and apply it to all of our relationships so that we can have the best friendships, marriage, career success, and parental influence that we desire.

Hearing a person speak and listening are two very different things. Listening implicates you actually taking an interest in what the other person has to say and trying to understand them, even if you disagree with them. Listening leads to more peace and harmony in all relationships. The more we listen the less we will fight and argue and the quicker we get to understanding and resolution. Don't we all want more of that?!!

So...To develop your ability to listen…

Become aware of the key signs that let you know you are not truly listening in a conversation:

  • Thinking of what you’re going to say next while the other is speaking

  • Waiting eagerly for the person to pause so you can interject your comments and thoughts. Or even worse, interrupting so that you can say your opinions!

  • Desiring the other person to understand you and get your point more than you care to understand them

  • Seeking ways to convince the other person to agree with you

  • Thinking the other person is absolutely wrong and you’re right

  • Assuming that you know what the person means by what they say and that you already know what they’re about to say

  • Interpreting what someone is saying with your own lens

  • Shutting down and thinking about other things while the person is trying to speak with you

Okay, so what does good listening actually look like?

  • Staying engaged in the conversation with a genuine interest and desire to understand the other person’s perspective and way of thinking

  • Asking curious, open-ended questions to seek understanding

  • Making eye contact and attentively hearing what the other person is saying

  • Giving your undivided attention without multitasking

  • Patiently allowing the other person to express themselves in their own style without interrupting

  • Reflecting back to them what you just heard and understood so that they know you are listening and wanting to understand them. Here is an example: “Let me make sure I understand. You really want to ….. because of …., am I understanding that correctly?

Take these tips shared and begin to use them with your spouse, children, boss, and employees; and you will begin to see how your relationships with them get transformed!

It takes time and practice to become a better listener; but I hope that you now have a greater desire to master the art of listening and start to reap the rewards that come with it.


Dornan, J., Maxwell, J. C. (1997). Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others (p.84). United States: HarperCollins Leadership.

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  • Writer's pictureJodi Sheffield LPC

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This phrase which you may or may not have heard from your parents growing up suggests that eating healthy foods like apples will keep one healthy, avoid sickness, and thus avoid the doctor’s office. I wish it were as simple as eating an apple. I would have bought out HEB’s stock of Red Delicious apples if that were the case. While eating apples cannot cure COVID-19, cancer, or a broken bone, eating a healthy diet of nutritious food like apples is vital to one’s physical health. Let’s say I wanted to create a phrase that resembles this oversimplified, yet not completely untrue, maxim and is therapy-centered. A comparably oversimplified truth might be: “Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries keeps you out of a therapist’s office.” Boundaries are the building blocks to any and all types of relationships. They are the framework that protects one’s relationship with self as well as one’s relationship with others. Boundaries are the relational parameters that delineates the boundary between your space and my space, “where you end and I begin” (Katherine, 2010). According to TherapistAid, boundaries are “the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships (2016). When communicated explicitly, boundaries express our relational expectations to one another in order to avoid confusion and toxicity and, most importantly, to prevent any form of abuse in relationships. Simply put, boundaries are what keep us healthy; they’re our relational apples. When I meet with a new couple or individual client, I am constantly assessing how they approach boundary setting and maintenance with themselves and those in their innermost social circles. Boundaries, or the lack thereof, can be a litmus test to the health of a relationship. And unfortunately, most people do not understand what boundaries are until they find themselves in a therapist’s office. Regardless if you are aware or unaware of the significance of boundaries in relationships, it is vital to understand the different types of boundaries, boundary characteristics, and boundary violations in order to set appropriate boundaries in one’s relationships in real time.

Below are the types of boundaries that can and should be set in every relationship. I appreciate how the MasterClass article, “6 Types of Boundaries and How to Set Them” outlines and defines each type of boundary.

Physical: “Physical boundaries protect your personal space, determine your comfort level with physical touch, and ensure that your physical needs (for things like rest and privacy) are met.” Sexual: “Sexual boundaries include your right to sexual consent, sexual preferences and desires, and privacy. Sexual boundaries define where, when, how, and with whom you desire sexual intimacy. It can also include limitations around sexual comments or advances made upon them by other parties in different situations, like on a first date or at family gatherings.” Emotional: “Establishing emotional boundaries involves taking ownership of your own feelings and not being made to feel responsible for other people’s feelings. Everyone has the right to have their feelings respected and validated.” Intellectual: “Intellectual boundaries, also known as mental boundaries, are a kind of boundary that relates to respecting thoughts, ideas, and opinions. You may not agree with others’ opinions, and they may not agree with yours, but unless something is hurtful or discriminatory, all parties have a right to share their ideas in the way they are comfortable, without being belittled.” Material: “Material boundaries relate to one's possessions and finances. Every person has the right to set boundaries around sharing their finances, possessions, and information.” Time: “Setting boundaries around the amount of time you spend working, socializing with others, and being alone can help prevent burnout and protect your mental health.” (MasterClass, June 8, 2022)

Sometimes, these boundaries are assumed in relationships. They are communicated implicitly, and thus ineffectively. Since we cannot read another’s mind, we cannot assume that they know where our boundary lines are located. We will discuss the primary issue of communicating boundaries effectively in next month's blog as well as boundary characteristics and common boundary violations. In the meantime, start setting some boundaries. They are important no matter how you slice it! Sources: Cloud, Henry, and John Sims Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Zondervan, 2017. Katherine, Anne. Boundaries Where You End and I Begin: Where You End and I Begin. Hazelden Publishing, 2010.

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  • Writer's pictureJodi Sheffield LPC

“You should be over this by now.” “Don’t be sad she is in Heaven now.” “There is a silver lining in all of this.” ”There is a reason for everything.” ”God’s in charge.” ”She was such a good person; God wanted her to be with Him.” “Just Move on.” We hear varying messages like the list above in some form or iteration about this acutely painful, intimately personal, emotionally complex experience of loss, otherwise known as grief. Unfortunately, grief is often associated with a variety of harmful, inaccurate and unrealistic assumptions, misconceptions and expectations. These are common myths regarding grief:

  1. Grief is time-limited. Grief has no time stamp even if your well-meaning aunt at Christmas less than gently encourages you that you need to get over your ex because it’s been “x” amount of time. Grief is not under the constraints of time, which leads me to the 2nd myth…

  2. Time heals all wounds. Time does not heal all wounds. My clinical experience has taught me that, yes, time is an essential part of the grieving process, but it does not heal us on its own. Assuming “time will heal all” allows us to believe that no action is required of us to heal. Healing happens to us, yet, if you have ever experienced loss in any form, you know this to be false. We all need time to adjust to the loss and create a life where we can still find meaning in the present, in what is without dismissing or invalidating the pain of our loss. Certain losses we will never fully recover from and that is ok. We will need to create spaces for ourselves to be upset while also cultivating a life worthy of living.

  3. Grief is about losing a loved one. Grief is not limited to the loss of a physical being, whether it be a beloved pet, relative, coworker or friend. Grief involves any type of loss, tangible or intangible. Limiting the depth and breadth of grief to the living limits our ability to grieve other losses in our lives, such as the slow distancing between friends over time, break ups with a romantic partner, fired or being let go from a job, feeling insecure due to financial instability, loss of safety due to a traumatic event, etc. Acknowledging our emotional pain in the midst of our tangible AND intangible losses will provide us the breathing room to be justifiably upset about the unfairness, brokenness and injustice that inundates our world today. Denying the reality of pain only worsens our pain turning it into unnecessary and debilitating suffering.

  4. To have grieved well means you are not sad anymore. Grieving well is not synonymous with the absence of sadness or any other painful emotion. It is normal and natural to experience grief symptoms during specific times of the year, such as anniversaries, holidays, and life’s milestones. If you’re a spiritual person, it is ok to experience sadness and joy simultaneously when holding in tension the realities that your loved one is not hurting anymore and/or is in a better place and, at the same time, wishing with your whole being that this is all just a bad dream and you will see your loved one tomorrow morning. Grieving well is permitting yourself to be sad and angry about what you have lost while also choosing to not let painful emotions keep you from living a full, meaningful life. Grieving well is honoring what or whom is gone by living authentically and courageously in your context, in your relationships, in this moment. Do not allow the fear of being hurt, abandoned, rejected or failure keep you from loving others and yourself well, cultivating new relationships, being vulnerable, and seeking new challenges and opportunities to grow.

When navigating the topic of grief with clients in session, I like to address their relationship with grief as well as what cultural and societal factors impact their understanding of grief. Identifying these factors and exploring the implicit/explicit messages received on grief throughout their life are primary therapy goals for processing grief. As clients gain insight on their views on grief, we can move forward in addressing and dismantling harmful beliefs or assumptions about grief. The timeless “Good grief” response from Charlie Brown accurately depicts how I feel about the negative consequences that subscribing, consciously or unconsciously, to these myths can have on one’s ability to grieve well. I pray that for all of us we can lean on quality research, good friends/family and a Good God to comfort us in times of pain where silver linings will never suffice. Sources & Resources:

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