The best gift you can give someone you care about is seeing and accepting them as they are; it’s hearing their voice, what they are deeply saying; it’s understanding them and accepting who they are and where they’re at without judgment or the need to change them.

It sounds simple yet even though we believe that’s what we do, most of the time we actually don’t. Due to multiple subconscious defences and coping mechanisms, we often don’t actually know how to relate to others from an authentic place.

Because the way our society is set up, most people in childhood have to split between their real authentic self and another self: the one who is trying to fit in and please others in order to be accepted. A lot of us experience being often in our “false self” as adults, in order to avoid being hurt, judged, rejected or criticised. We conform to what’s expected of us to avoid confrontation, or we bury down what we really feel or need as it doesn’t feel welcomed. Or we alternatively cut off our needs and create distance from people once again to protect ourselves from being hurt.

We rarely dare or take the risk to be truly ourselves. We rarely show others our true feelings, our weaknesses, our fears – our vulnerability. We keep those for ourselves or if we’re lucky to have people we trust in our lives with our emotions and needs, we might tentatively open up to them.

I am struck at the amount of people who cross my path and share incidentally how their spouse or partner doesn’t even know their deepest fears, needs or insecurities. If the person you live with doesn’t see those, then who does? Who in your life gives you a sense of being truly seen, heard, understood and unconditionally accepted for who you are?

And how do you truly see, hear and understand someone you love in a way they actually feel it?

Here are a few commons ways we involuntarily fail at relating authentically to someone else:

  • When we judge or criticise someone on their actions, thinking they’re wrong in their saying or doing, we’re not seeing them. We’re projecting onto them our standards based on how we would behave in such a situation. We’re not seeing that person’s standards or reasons, albeit subconscious, to do or say what they’re doing or saying. We’re not understanding deeply, without judgment, with curiosity and compassion their reasons for doing so. We don’t take into consideration their history, their fears, their motivations, their upbringing and values. We don’t see their pain and insecurities. We simply assume we know better, that we are somehow better than them therefore we know what’s right or wrong for or about them.
  • When we give people advice or tell them what to do, without having been requested to do so, we’re not seeing, hearing or understanding them. As above, we unconsciously assume we know better than them what’s right for them, what they should do or not do; we dismiss their own capacity to make the right decisions for themselves, we distrust that they know themselves and their needs better than we do. We project onto them what would actually work for us in this situation and that becomes advice – but in doing so, we’re not being there for them, we make it about ourselves – on a subconscious level, of course.
  • When we connect with people because we want to pick their brain or benefit from their advice or opinion – without clearly making that request to them, we’re once again not being there for them. Our interaction is based on our own needs and interests and the other person might believe we’re having a genuine two-sided interaction rather than us actually needing something from them. If it hasn’t been stated clearly, we run the risk of that misunderstanding and the other person might feel unseen or not appreciated for who they are, but rather used for what we get out of them.
  • When we’re only listening to what someone is telling us about themselves either to relate it to our own experience or to get a chance to bring it back to ourselves – for example by saying “oh yes! The same happened to me, let me tell you about it” and start talking about ourselves instead, we’re not hearing the other person. The interaction and their sharing only becomes a reason to make it about ourselves – and in doing so, we’re not truly and genuinely connecting with them.
  • When we connect with someone and politely ask them how they are and what’s going on for them, but only half listen or get distracted thinking about something else or checking our phone, we’re not hearing the other being who’s there with us. We’re probably patiently waiting for our turn to talk to have the opportunity to talk about ourselves. But we’re not seeing or understanding them. They’re almost invisible to us.
  • When in response to someone sharing their emotions or feelings we try to make them feel better by saying “it’s not that bad!” or “look at the bright side”, “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill” or “you’re too sensitive”, “you shouldn’t feel this way”, “there’s no need to be upset/angry etc” or anything along those lines, we’re actually dismissing and negating how the other person feels. We’re not giving them a chance to feel heard or understood before we jump in trying to make them feel better. And it is possible that the reason we’re doing so might be because we are uncomfortable with their emotions or we might not know what to do with them and feel inadequate or unhelpful or something else: but those reasons have to do with us, not with them. In saying or doing so, we’re not attending to their needs of being simply heard and acknowledged in their experience. We’re depriving them of the gift of being listened to and validated in what they feel.
  • You may be thinking “phew! I’m ok, I’m not doing any of that!” but chances are that like all of us, you do. Simply put, if you have an ego, you’re likely to be doing some of those patterns. You may be strongly resisting that suggestion and if you are, this means it’s even more likely that you do engage in some of those patterns – at least sometimes! This is simply human nature, we all do it. Perhaps you could also reflect on when this is being done to you. That might be easier to see?

    All those responses are most of the time unconscious, and of course not a conscious attempt to be self-absorbed or selfish or dismissive; they stem from our own unmet needs, our own conditioning and upbringing. We can’t give what we’ve never received. Chances are that yourself, you’ve never experienced being truly acknowledged, heard and seen in who you deeply are, or validated for what you need and feel.

    Our society, especially in the western world, doesn’t encourage this approach to relationships. We are told early on to stuff down our emotions, to toughen up, that we are unreasonable or too sensitive; no wonder that’s how we relate to others.

    But it’s not healthy; one of our most important emotional needs is to be deeply seen, understood and validated for who we are, what we feel and what we need. A lot of our dissatisfactions and unhappiness stem from not having those needs met. What is even sadder is that a lot of us don’t even know anymore what we need or feel. We’ve had to disconnect such a long time ago from that authentic part of us that we’ve lost touch with it. We do what we are told, what is expected of us, what we know is “right” according to our society’s standards – and don’t understand why we feel anxious, dissatisfied or lonely. So in order to cope, we make ourselves very busy, trying to find a sense of identity and purpose in our achievements; or we turn to our devices to feel less lonely; or we use substances or behaviours to fill in that void we deeply feel.

    So where do we start? Perhaps the first skill is what we call “active listening”. When you relate and try to connect with someone, simply listen deeply to their words, to the emotions they’re not articulating, for the hidden pain perhaps, or for the needs they’re trying to express. It’s removing your ego to truly listen and see the other person. Opening to them with curiosity in an attempt to understand and know them better. It’s catching all our usual habits of making it about ourselves or comparing it to our standards and opinions – and letting go of those, just for a moment, to meet truly the person we’re trying to relate to, to simply be present with them.

    I deeply believe that if we were to learn on a global level to truly see and understand each other, a lot of our suffering would alleviate. We would feel validated and acknowledged and might not need any longer to engage in destructive behaviours to prove our worth – whether on an individual or global level. Because in order to witness and welcome someone as they are, without trying to change or control them we would need to feel strong and secure in ourselves. How different would the world be if we all had our emotional needs met, on top of our basic other needs? What would be different in your life if you had a deep sense of being valued and appreciated exactly as you are? If you didn’t need to judge, criticise or control everything in order to feel secure and reassured? If you just believed in your intrinsic worth and didn’t try to prove it consistently to others or yourself?

    Who in your life makes you feel truly seen and accepted?

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