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Friday, September 25, 2009

What opens us to someone else?

(article from the Dominion Post dated 24th Sept ‘09)

by Neil Rosenthal

Let’s say you were looking to love someone – or to love someone more fully. What would you do to achieve that goal? Pamper her with jewellery? Compliment him? Romance her more? Spend more time together? Bring her flowers? Seduce him?

Well, not exactly. Not that those behaviours wouldn’t be appreciated, but rather they are only partial answers to the question of what it takes for us to be more loving. The real answer is that we require the five As: attention, acceptance/approval, appreciation, affection and allowing. Those behaviours taken together opens us up and make us feel safe, secure, loved, valued and cherished.

Attention. Attunement. Noticing what someone is doing, how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, what they sound like, what they need and want. When we feel someone’s genuine and friendly attention, we feel more deeply known for who we are, and it creates greater degrees of connection, trust and safety. Attention is about bringing someone into our focus, so we no longer see that person with as much blurred vision. To desire attention is to desire a listener who focuses on you with kindness and respect, who takes you seriously and who values how you feel.

Acceptance / Approval. When you feel accepted, you feel worthy. Trusted. Approved of as you are. Supported. The more secure you feel regarding how accepted you are, the more you will be able to open up and love more freely. So how do we accept traits and behaviours in our partner (and in ourselves) which are self-destructive, self-centred, morally wrong, foolish and risky? The answer lies in seeing beyond someone’s weaknesses to his or her inner being, where we can see his/her inner beauty and potential. It is only then that we can speak against a behaviour without speaking against the person.

Appreciation. To feel greater levels of self-confidence and self-worth, we need to feel recognised, appreciated, respected and valued for what we are, what we give, what we do and how we are unique and special. We thrive when we are encouraged, and appreciation is encouragement. It also fosters greater closeness.

Affection. Touch is essential for opening up and remaining intimate. From holding hands to making love, expressing ourselves physically helps us stay connected and secure in each other’s presence. But affection can be more than physical. It is also about feeling and communicating that you genuinely like someone else, and like being in his / her presence. You are also being affectionate when you are kind, considerate, playful, romantic, compassionate, thoughtful and empathetic.

Allowing. In a relationship, when I am allowed to be my authentic self, to express my deepest needs and longings, to trust in my own judgement, to go after creating my life’s goals and ambitions and to explore my own unique path and interests, you are allowing me the ability to create my best self. My best self is the self I would be if I weren’t devoting so much of my time and energy to meeting everyone else’s needs, expectations and demands. So if you want me, you cannot be controlling of me, or put so many nasty demands on me that I wind up losing myself in order to take care of you.

The five As are eloquently articulated and described by David Richo in his book How to be an adult in Relationships (Shambala). They are the essential ingredients of love, respect, security and support. All of them make us more loving both when we give and when we receive them.

Neil Rosenthal is a marriage and family therapist specialising in intimate relationships.