The Bad Listener

Cose up of a woman's eyes with jewels around them

It’s official – I’m a bad listener.

In the white-hot energy of an introductory conversation, I will not ask you questions. I won’t inquire about your work, your family, the ages of your children. I know which questions should be asked. They press on my chest, tug at my sleeve, get stuck on my tongue. I know a conversation should be balanced but my own voice adds to the heat on my face – constant, a little too fast, a little too high. I wish I could make it stop.

But the words come and I cannot take a pause to ask about you, to listen to you.

I am not sure why. There is fear – anxiety about the unknown. I don’t know you. I don’t know what you might say, what reactions I might be expected to make, which questions might be hard for you to answer or provoke feelings that I cannot know about. So I talk and talk about the safest topic, the things that are familiar and expected – me.

The discourtesy oozes through me. I feel it like oil on my skin. Sometimes I can force myself to ask a question but the effort means I cannot focus on your answer. I hear you but the words are hollow – like you are far away.

I am a bad listener.

If you are having a difficult time and seek advice or comfort from me, I will do my best. I care deeply. I want to help, to show you that I am here, that I want to support you. I will try to listen, but again, my own voice betrays me. It spills out, pouring heart and soul in a torrent that flows in your direction. I will overshare. I will tell you in detail about similar situations I have faced, times I have felt the same. My own pain is a flickering jewel, hidden in my chest.

I will pull it out and hand it to you.

I don’t know how to do anything else. I will seem like a bad listener, I know. I think my heart is listening to yours. I think the exhilaration of shared grief, shared heartache should feel like a balm. It is not so for you.

Others tell me that I am self-centred and absorbed only in myself, my own problems, and I must admit, I can see how it must sound so. It is never my intention.

When I seek advice, I will rarely listen to suggestions. I am caught in a loop. I overthink and worry and overthink and worry and overthink and worry and my thoughts are stuck. If I cannot figure something out on my own and seek support from others, my mind is already in an obsessive spiral. I share the problem because it is all I can think about. It burns in my brain. The intensity of it, of me and the thought, me and the problem, me and the thought – it is overwhelming. Just having others there, some other voice but the ones warring in my mind, brings comfort.

I do not need to listen. I just need you to talk. I may dismiss what you say, because the voices in my mind have already said it, already dismissed it. Why seek advice at all, if I cannot accept it, cannot even listen to it without rejecting it outright?

It is lonely, the battle between my thoughts and me. It is relentless and exhausting. Another voice makes me feel like there is hope. Another voice makes me feel a little less stuck.

But to you, I am a bad listener. I am the new acquaintance who just talked and talked without asking about you. I am a friend who ignored your pain and talked and talked and talked about themselves. I am dismissive and rude about your advice. I will dominate the conversation and bring it back round to my own problem, even though I never actually seem to want to hear your thoughts on it. I am infuriating and annoying and sometimes you wonder whether I am just a bad person – a toxic person – a selfish, self-obsessed egoist who never really cares about anyone else, despite their protestations to the contrary.

I see it.

I am just good at talking. I am very good at obsessive thinking. I am an autistic adult and I am well-spoken and eloquent, even when all else is breaking down.

But I am a bad listener.

I am sorry.


If you found this post useful, you may find the category on Adult Autism useful.

One thought on “The Bad Listener

  1. How awful for you! To know you’re possibly upsetting people and not be able to stop it.
    Thank you for sharing this. It probably happens to a lot of autistic adults and we, as friends and family, can be more understanding with more knowledge.

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