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What Submarines Can Teach Us About Intimacy – Part 4 – Dysfunctional Intimacy: The Listener

December 7, 2011

“If you would only listen, you might just realize what you’re missin’, you’re missin’ me”

Jack Johnson

The listener.  We all know one of these don’t we?  Someone who never puts themself on the map.  Someone who will not take a position.  It doesn’t mean they don’t speak, it means they never go deeper than the shallows.  As soon as things get too deep they head for shallower, more controllable waters if not disappearing altogether.

I suppose there can be different motives.  To some it may be a way of hiding and protecting themselves.  The basic thought being, “if they can’t see me they can’t torpedo me.”  On the other hand, the listener could be lying in wait, like sniper taking shots in the dark.  The basic tactic being, “If I just stay out of sight, they’ll have trouble defending themselves against me.”

Some listeners brandish their weaponry.  It’s a classic animal defense.  Scorpions have that nasty stinging tail that they wave around in the air for all to see.  Why?  So you’ll think twice.  Lurking in the shadows and sniping people might simply be a wicked heart being put into practice, but it might also be the manifestation of pain.   It’s the sort of pain that says I’m going to strike first so you won’t strike at all.  I would know, that was me.  I was tired of receiving torpedoes.  I put on an exterior that I thought might scare them off.  Nothing changed.  In fact, it probably brought more challengers than peace.  For some, it might be a good defense.

When I first came back to California I had more culture shock coming from the east coast than I did when I went from 3rd world Africa to the east coast.  Why?  Because of how people silently scream for relationship out here.  I remember  seeing a man with a shaved head and tattoos all over his face and scalp, he also flaunted a scowl that communicated “don’t mess with me.”  What I noticed was that I was intimidated enough that I didn’t want to look.  But then again, why put tattoos on your face if you don’t want people to look?  I felt a cry to be known, but not to come too close because if I came too close I might get a torpedo.

Listeners might also go silent because no one ever pays attention to their pings.  Putting yourself out there is difficult.  When you do something, which to you is a brave move of putting yourself out there, and it goes unrecognized it can be hurtful.

Either way their silence is a defensive tactic.  It may be the converted defense of an overpinger who has absorbed a few too many torpedoes, and has decided not to give away his position ever again.  Regardless of their motives, a listener is avoiding torpedoes.  By never putting themselves on the map, they miss out in relationships because they never really enter them.  They just stay on the fringes.

I think the listener desires intimate relationships, but fears what it might cost them.  It will cost the possibility of being ignored, or worse receiving a torpedo.  But it’s fear that keeps them in silence.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

1 John 4:18 (ESV)

I think what often is needed is a listening ear mixed with affirmation.  Or in layman’s terms, love.  It’s that love which breaks the fear.  The listener listens, but the listener can also be out-listened.  I once went to a life group training session.  Honestly, I didn’t hang around for most of it because I ditched halfway through to go surfing, but I learned a couple of things that day.  The most important was, “If you want to make someone feel welcomed in your group, ask them a question and shut up.”  Wow.  Here’s a bit of trivia they didn’t tell me at the training but I figured out later anyway: asking questions and shutting up works outside of a group context.  Don’t answer all their questions for them, give them a platform to make themselves known.

It isn’t that the listener doesn’t speak, it’s that the listener doesn’t speak about the deep things.  Patience and questions draw out the listener and opens them to real relationships.  You may have a few torpedoes fired at you, but much of a time those are a test.  Those torpedoes ask the question: Once you see what’s really on the inside, you will still hang around, will you still love me?  

So yeah, I’m not a psychologist or a submarine expert.  These are simply my thoughts, in no way exhaustive, on a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while.  Comments/insight welcome.

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