I believe most human beings want good relationships, at least one in which they are really seen and deeply understood. It is very special when someone knows you, not just superficially, but all of you: your challenges, your victories, your dreams, your hopes, and the different and sometimes complex parts of your personality. It is a priceless gift when someone sees who you are beneath any social façade. It is an experience of love to be seen, enjoyed or admired, and related to.
What is really sad, and far too common, is to live your life to the end without ever feeling seen and known. But there is a catch here: in order to be seen and known, deeply, you must be able to soften or release the protective structures that you have built. We all have these structures. They can be soft, light, simple and easy to open when we wish; or, they can be rigid, complex, fragmented, deeply engrained, and seemingly impenetrable. The more impenetrable the structure, the more difficult it is to feel seen, known and loved. The majority of us are somewhere in the middle of that scale. So to achieve and sustain those special, deep and intimate relationships, most of us have some work to do. We have to heal the wounds around which we built those layers of protection.
Let me ask you a delicate question. Do any of the following apply to you? Did you have a mother who was depressed for a long time after your birth? Did you suffer a traumatic birth? Did your parents divorce before you were seven years old, which suggests that they were miserable during most of your formative years? Did you have an alcoholic parent or a parent with a serious anger problem? Were you in a serious accident in childhood? Did you have at least one parent who, regardless of how caring he or she might have been, had no clue what it meant to be emotionally present? Did you have a parent who was heavy handed expecting you to adhere to standards well above your age?
Did you receive a good deal of empathy and emotional guidance? Did you feel seen and understood by at least one parent? Was discipline meted out firmly with love and respect? I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point.
It is often quite difficult to examine your childhood in terms of whether or not you experienced “trauma”. The problem is that the conclusions we draw can leave out a great deal of useful information. Many clients over the years told me that they experienced very little “trauma” in childhood. Initially, they usually say they had a normal childhood. Then, within the next fifteen minutes, they tell me their mom was depressed for two years after their birth or their father was an alcoholic who came home enraged once a week. Many tell me their parents never openly expressed affection to them or to each other, that feelings didn’t exist in their homes, and on and on. But there was “no trauma.” Theirs was a “normal childhood.” Yes, I agree. It was normal, but only in a statistical sense. A much more useful conclusion is we all can improve and grow.
One thing our culture has as yet to fully grasp is that these wounds are not just psychic. They are wounds that affect you as a whole organism. They affect your core beliefs, your sense of yourself, how you feel about yourself, your relationship capacities, your brain and nervous system and your very tissues, structure and movement.
Through my long journey out of the dark trenches of my childhood and into the sweetness and blessedness of my current life, I evolved a comprehension of what happens to us when we are poorly tended or maltreated, and what happens to us when we don’t have sufficient understanding of what it means to be alive in these human bodies. Included in the comprehension I have achieved is an understanding of what it takes to restore the full, rich quality of our humanity. I have learned what it takes to live in a body I actually can enjoy and which is capable of deep, loving connections. These days, I live with mostly positive feelings, such as gratitude and appreciation. I have learned what it takes to have delightful friendships replete with deep, intimate communication.
Sadly, living this fully is not the norm; yet, it is a potential we all can realize. Following are practices that will guide you in your personal and relational evolution. From my point of view, emotional, personal, spiritual growth is what we are here to do.
12 Practices that enrich relationships:
- Speak from your heart.
- Listen to your partner.
- Learn to detect ruptures in your relationship and repair them skilfully.
- Release frustration, irritation, disappointment, and resentment gracefully.
- Choose your response; don’t just react.
- Remain centered while engaged in difficult conversations.
- Make room for new aspects of yourself to emerge.
- Embrace and support your vulnerability.
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and appreciation.
- Engage in mindful self-care.
From my perspective, the above capacities are so much of what life is all about. If you can take good care of yourself, live with gratitude and appreciation, embrace and support your vulnerability, welcome new aspects of yourself to emerge as life conditions change, remain centered in difficult conversations, not allow your reactions to take over but pause and respond according to your values, self-soothe, let go of negative experiences gracefully, become skilful at repairing ruptures in your connections, attune to and empathize with your partner, be a skilful listener who can hear the music between the words, and speak from your heart, unguarded and without vigilant censorship, that would be quite a group of skills.