Ask the experts: How can I be more open-minded and understanding?

If you spend any time on social media, you may notice that society appears to be polarising. Moving further and further apart, now seems like a great time to work on our empathy skills and develop an open mind so we can work on bringing ourselves together again.

To help with this, we spoke to integrative-relational counsellor Kayan Houssein.

How can I be more open minded?

I’ve been brought up with quite a closed-minded way of thinking but I’m ready to break that pattern. How can I start to be more open-minded?

OK, so you want to become more open-minded, this is a positive thing, right? Yes, but like everything, it’s complicated. If you have grown up in a family or culture that is quite closed-minded, you may have inherited a set of patterns, thoughts or beliefs about the world.

Changing in any fashion is tinged with loss and grief, as we shed these old thoughts or ways of being. We become different, and this can impact relationships in both positive and negative ways. That’s why, throughout this process of change, we need to be compassionate to ourselves. Find what makes you feel safe in life. This could be family, friends, relationships, group membership, pets, your home, whatever it might be. This is your secure base. From this point, start to take tentative steps into the unknown, secure in the knowledge that you can return to your safe place.

I’d love to work on my listening and empathy skills but I’m not sure where to start. What would you suggest?

Firstly, we need to acknowledge what a gift this is, that you are willing to listen to and understand others. I would suggest that we become curious about ourselves first. Take the time to check in with yourself regularly, perhaps create a dialogue with yourself by journaling, or find a mindfulness practice or meditation that works for you. 

But why would you start with yourself first? Well, by doing this, you create a sense of spaciousness within yourself to be able to listen to others and absorb their experiences. Doing this inner work also allows you to see that your ideas about life are just that, ideas, helping to create a sense of distance or objectivity about them. Stories and knowledge are really powerful things, and reading about someone’s life or experience can be transformational in the way we view them and increase our empathy.

I want to be more active in my community and in supporting others. Do you have any tips on how to start?

Most religious and spiritual traditions throughout the ages have helping one another and building a sense of community at their heart for a reason, because it also makes us feel amazing and connected to each other. If we can combine this with something that we are interested in or want to learn more about, then it becomes magic, and a double gain for the people we are helping and ourselves.

If negative thoughts, your inner critic or anxiety are holding you back, then remember to be kind to yourself and take it slowly. Start small and build up, increase your zone of tolerance and remember to use your safe base to come back to. Don’t forget, everyone was new at something once, and you don’t have to be perfect, just give it a go and see what happens. 

What are your top tips for being more open-minded and compassionate towards others?

Being curious and compassionate to ourselves is my first tip. We are our own worst critics and say the most horrible things to ourselves. If we can be compassionate to ourselves and, dare I say, love ourselves expansively we will be more able to do that for others.

My second tip is to see every person as a teacher, a unique person, with life experiences we can learn from. Viewing others from this vantage point slows us down and helps us take in what they are saying, rather than just waiting for our turn to speak.

And my final tip is to just go for it, life is short. Be brave and pull at the thread that is never ending, seeing where it takes you, the more you open up to life, life opens up to you. Get into debates and push yourself outside of your comfort zone where growth lies. 

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 71 2023). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Counselling Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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