Organizations like Amal Centre are integral to support vulnerable women in our communities. They form the official branch of a support system that helps women by providing essential services and resources to navigate difficult situations, such as domestic abuse and social isolation. However, a larger part of this support system is informal. The informal network consists of women (and professionals) that make up the first line of defense by lending an ear to those in need.
“The resourcefulness of communities, who receive little investment or care from larger society, is not to be understated, and can often be relied upon as an avenue that shelters its members from the scrutiny and stigmatization of wider society” (Toolkit p.3)
Amal Centre, in collaboration with Concordia University’s SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation, created their Toolkit to Strengthen Listeners in recognition of women who are exposed to large quantities of second-hand trauma through their role as Listeners. It addresses their struggles as individuals constantly reliving other women’s traumatic experiences. “This toolkit is for [all kinds of listeners], to help them understand the feelings they may be experiencing, to help them understand boundaries and self-care and to share active listening techniques,” said Christine Menendez, Amal Centre’s Coordinator.
The toolkit outlines various aspects of active listening, such as effective listening techniques, setting boundaries and recognizing physical and mental signs that one’s own health is suffering. One of the results of being an active Listener can be compassion fatigue, a state of emotional exhaustion that comes with a host of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Listeners’ aid can come at a high cost to their own mental health. Their efforts often go unnoticed, which exacerbates their suffering and can be harmful to the community.
Amal Centre created the toolkit because they recognized a need for it. “As a Listener myself and knowing many Listeners in the Muslim and Concordia University communities, I saw women who wanted to support and help others, but that sometimes became overwhelmed by what they heard and also were unsure of what to do to help. On several occasions I heard how they couldn’t sleep because of what they had heard, worrying about the person. Others became fatigued or angry repeatedly hearing about a friend living in an abusive situation.” said Menendez.
To address the emotions and feelings of being overwhelmed, the toolkit’s Self Care wheel (Toolkit p.8) lists various coping mechanisms ranging from physical to spiritual methods, which can help with burnout that arises from constantly being on the receiving end of traumatic stories.
Almost everyone has been, is or will be a listener at some point, which demonstrates the usefulness and necessity of this toolkit. We often focus so much on those who are most visibly suffering, but this toolkit validates and emphasizes the challenges faced by people behind the scenes – Listeners.
“We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as important and hard as talking.”
About the author:
Sara Eldabaa is a Montréal native of Egyptian heritage who has lived her whole life in Montréal. She recently completed her Bachelor’s in psychology from McGill, and she is currently pursuing a degree in journalism at Concordia. She’s interested in the human condition and learning about people’s stories, especially those belonging to people who have been deliberately ignored or silenced.