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When it Comes to Emotional Support, Age Doesn't Matter

Written in 2003

The other day I was really feeling discouraged, frustrated, alone and confused. I called my best online friend, Sarah. She is 14. She was there for me when I needed her. She listened to me. She listened quietly and only spoke when she sensed it was the right time. And she only said what she sensed was the right thing to say. I am convinced that if there is such a thing as an emotional genius, Sarah is one. No one has ever taught Sarah how to be a good listener. She just has this uncanny knack for it. When it comes to emotional support, Sarah is one of the best I have ever met.

This got me thinking about Shevaun and Toby again. Maybe this is why he is attracted to her. Maybe this is why other older men are attracted to adolescent women. Maybe it is not so much about sex as emotional support. Maybe Toby yearned to be held. Maybe she wanted to feel the emotional support from being held. And maybe Toby did too. What else is more comforting than to be held by someone you feel understood by, safe with, protected by, rescued by and in love with?

It seems clear, actually, that it was emotional support that Shevaun was looking for. And maybe it was the emotional support Toby needed with having suffered the death of his wife. It is understandable they would need emotional comforting and young females are naturally able to provide this. Whether that is what was happening between the two of them I can't say for sure, but it does appear that the emotional support and the comfort of feeling loved and needed was a big part of their mutual attraction.

Is Toby a "pedophile"? I can't be the judge of that. If someone told me he was forcibly having sex with 6 year olds, I would say, "yeah, this guy definitely has a serious problem." But from what I have read so far, I can't judge Toby, let alone label or condemn him or want to see him punished and hurt even more than he already has been. He is likely suffering even more if Shevaun did not really want to leave him, and if he knows she is feeling alone, afraid, robbed of someone she loved, and perhaps worse of all, tricked by her own parents.

What I do know for sure is that when I am feeling emotionally needy, I want them to listen. I want to pour out my heart And I have found that consistently, teenagers are among the best listeners.

It was amazing when I talked to Sarah the other day. She was perfect. She let me say what I needed to say. She didn't interrupt. She didn't judge me for swearing or saying I felt like killing someone. My own mother could never have done for me what Sarah did. I am a fairly emotional guy. Just a little. lol. I swear, I throw things. I can really chop wood when I am upset about something, let me tell you. My mother no doubt "loves me" but she can't listen to me as I need to be listened to. What happened with Sarah would never have happened with my mother. I would not feel safe to swear and cry and talk about killing someone. She would say something like, "It won't help to swear..." My mother is afraid of my strong emotions. She never let me release them fully. So, guess what, they became bottled up. That sounds like such a cliche, but it fits me. Now at 45 I act more like a teenager than a lot of teenagers when it comes to my emotions. So I understand how Shevaun and Toby could have connected at an emotional level. I fully understand this. The poor guy has been bossed around all his life. He was a marine, for Christ's sake! To get to that point in life, you must have taken a lot of orders from a lot of people. He probably just really needs someone to listen to him that won't start ordering him to clean up his language or stop doing this or stop feeling complaining or whatever. He needs emotional validation. We all do!

The more I talk to females under 20 or so, the more I see how beautiful they are inside. (See Adolescent Beauty) They can be the best listeners. In fact, a psychologist friend of mine, Gerry, was more than a little hurt I think when I basically told her that Sarah was a better listener than she was. And sadly, I think Gerry was probably a better listener at 14 than she is now. I don't mean she had better "skills." A person can have the skills but not the heart for listening. Sarah has the heart. Studying counseling would probably kill her natural listening ability. They would teach her all the cognitive therapy models and fill her head with so much information that she would start to switch off the feeling part of her brain. I am more and more convinced this is what is happening in psychology and counseling programs. And even more so in law school and business school.

We are creating a society full of what I sometimes call over-educated smart asses. Know-it-alls who don't really care how you feel. They just want to prove they are right, and you are wrong. I feel my body tense as I write these words. This is how it was in my family at least. My mother made sure we lived out her vision of the American dream. She wanted us to have a better life. So she got us "educated." One brother went to Cornell. He is on lithium now. One sister has a Ph.D. in psychology. I hear that she thinks putting 14 year olds on drugs is a great idea.

When I want someone to listen to me, I want them to listen.

I have put my whole website together in a search to understand myself and my needs. It is all making more and more sense now. Like the time I tried to talk to Gerry about something. I just said a few things. I had a lot more to say. But she interrupted me at the earliest possibility and said something like, "Do you think you should..." She wanted me to think. I have done too much thinking in my life! Grrrr. I need to connect with someone on an emotional level.

With Sarah, I connect on an emotional level. Our age difference has not stopped us from connecting. If anything, as Sarah has gotten older, she has become a worse listener. She gets defensive more easily. Feels a need to put her own comments in more often. I believe her formal "education" has hurt her so far. She is so different and so strong-willed that she is always getting judged, threatened etc. The school in particular, and her father and social workers to a lesser degree have done everything they can to make her conform to their expectations of how she should behave think and feel. It is truly frightening to me to watch the process. I'd guess that the best listeners have very few of their own needs. When you are not allowed to be yourself, you are emotionally needy. You feel stressed. You can't be a good listener in these conditions.

Fortunately, when I called Sarah, her father was not home. She didn't have any school work that she "had" to do, whatever that expression means -- to have to do something. (I tell Sarah the only thing she has to do is die. Everything else is a choice. See my Freedom article) So Sarah could listen to me as long as I needed her to. I don't call her often out of a need to talk to her. Usually it is the other way around. But the other day, I really felt a strong need to talk to her, no one else. We are so afraid of her father disconnecting the phone again and taking away her Internet that I didn't call her till we had chatted first and I asked if I could call. She happened to be online just when I needed her. Was that a coincidence? I don't know. But I feel some spooky kind of connection with her. I have always felt it. I get that with some people a little from time to time when we chat, but it is strongest with Sarah. So anyhow, she was free to listen to me.

Most of the day she sits around crying, cutting, listening to music, writing, reading, and watching re-runs of Dawsons Creek or Girl Interrupted. So she has a lot of time on her hands. She has never been encouraged or supported in doing anything she really believes in. In fact, I am pretty sure that out of all her counselors and social workers, no one has ever asked her if she had a dream or if there was anything that really inspired her. They just keep trying to fit her into a very small box. If they keep it up, they just might be putting her in a box alright. One that is covered with dirt.

But I am getting off track. I basically want to conclude this by saying that in thinking about all of this I had a chilling thought. The thought is that it might literally be true that as we get older we become worse listeners. Or at least this might be the way it is in our Western, capitalistic, "success" driven society. How much time do we really have to listen to someone, especially someone who is depressed and needs you to just be there for them, as Beth needed me to be yesterday. What if would have said, "Sorry, Beth, I have another client." What then? The question brings tears to my eyes. Yesterday was one of the most traumatic days of her very traumatic life, if she is telling me the truth of course. And like usual, I believe her. Teens talk to me because I believe them. Sure, sometimes they have taken me for a ride. But I will still keep believing in them, if not swallowing everything they say without question anymore.

So back to my question. Is it possible we become worse listeners with age? Is it possible we become worse listeners the more degrees we have? This thought really sends chills down my spine. If that is true, if it could be scientifically shown, what would that say about our society? The answer is truly frightening. But I would like to see it investigated. We need to know the truth, scary as it might be.

I am convinced we have enough "stuff" in society. Just look at the waste in the USA for example. But are the people there really happy? How happy can you be with more and more people around the world hating you? How happy can you be when you are afraid your home will be broken into, your kids will be kidnapped, or shot. How happy can you be when you are worried about losing your job if you break the rules?

No, I don't think it is more stuff we need. I don't think it is higher test scores or higher productivity. I think it is more emotional support. I have had pretty much everything I wanted in life. It meant nothing to me when I couldn't get a relationship to work. And one reason I couldn't is because I was a terrible listener. One former girlfriend called me the "master of turning things around." I was too defensive and thought I knew too much to be a good listener. Now when I chat with someone, I just show them that I care and that I won't judge them or invalidate them. Then I take my hands off the keyboard and let them type.

I learned this by actually chatting with teens, not in any school or even in my suicide prevention training. How much was that worth to learn? What price can you put on that? And do you need a PhD in Psychology? (See psychology students and courses)

So when it comes to people like Shevaun and Toby, let's take a closer look. Let's see what needs they were trying to fill. And let's ask, why weren't those needs met at home and in "normal" relationships? Why was Toby an "Internet addict" at 12? Well I can just tell you what I have experienced. I have found that teens who are "addicted" to the net are in a lot of emotional pain. They use it for distraction or for emotional support. I have also learned that if I validate a teenagers feelings and show I care by just being my real, extremely emotional self, they will talk to me for hours on end. One day I simply have to get a book put together on all of this. There is something very big happening here. The shivers in my body tell me that. Or maybe I just need to get some more wood for the fire. lol

S. Hein
July 19, 2003

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