How to be a Successful Compassionate Listener

Becoming a supportive and compassionate listener to survivors can be an uncomfortable experience as it requires the listener to hear about events that have traumatized a loved one. However, compassionate listening is extremely important to the survivor’s healing process so that your loved ones know they are cared for, supported, and believed. Being a compassionate listener ultimately means that you are aware you are only there to listen and be a source of comfort and support. Compassionate listening is not offering unwanted advice or sharing experiences that pull attention away from the issue. Often, listeners will try to come up with solutions right away, and although these solutions are often well-intentioned, they are not what survivors need at the moment of sharing. As our clinical director, Wendy, eloquently explains,

“Compassionate listeners need to just listen. Don't try to fix it for them, don't try to 'focus on the positive'. Just listen and know that whatever they are saying is true and real to them-- that is what matters.”

Here is a quick rundown on how to become a compassionate listener:

  • It is more important to listen and be present than to think of solutions for the future
  • Always be respectful and attentive
  • Avoid “why” questions as this word could imply blame
  • Never victim blame or insinuate any sort of blame on the survivors part
  • Accept what they are sharing
  • Let the survivor know you are grateful that they trusted you with the information they are choosing to share
  • Remember you do not always have to know exactly what to say, sharing your compassion and support is enough
  • Never force a survivor to go to the authorities or immediately suggest they contact authorities. Instead, ask if going to authorities is an option for them and if they say no respect their decision


To be a compassionate listener means never making the conversation about yourself and your emotions surrounding the traumatic event. Nor should you try to convince the survivor to make decisions you would make if you were in their place. It is your role as a listener to build a safe haven for your loved one and in creating this it is imperative to listen and stay present in the conversation so you may build trust. When listeners are not actively listening, they lose opportunities to build trust between themselves and their loved ones.

While it can be difficult listening to a loved one explain the abuse they have gone through, the most important thing you can do is believe. It is easy for the brain to not want to believe these hardships have occurred to someone you care about and your brain may start to make excuses as to why these things may have happened to justify the events. Just remember that your love, support, and belief are what will help your friend, daughter, son, cousin, etc., and not blame or forceful solutions. 

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