John Amodeo, PhD, MFT, writes about the power of being yourself and sharing your true feelings to make connections.
Being human means having a longing to connect with others. Intimacy is the felt sense of connection with another person. The important question is this: What does it take to experience warm, safe, and fulfilling connections in our lives?
Some people are attracted to each other based upon an image that’s being projected, such as being “successful,” beautiful, or interesting. But this superficial attraction doesn’t offer the intimacy we desire. Such attractions are short-lived at best. They are destined to curdle into distance and dissatisfaction when people inevitably discover who we really are, including the secret fears, hurts, and challenges we conceal. If we’re not moving toward a rich and alive intimacy based upon a deeper sharing of our innermost lives, we might become rather boring to others—and bored with ourselves.
Rather than strive to be someone who we think people will like, we need to discover what it means to be ourselves. A path toward genuine intimacy begins by allowing ourselves to be seen as we really are. Staying connected to the energy of our own being—resting comfortably in ourselves–creates a foundation for people to come toward us.
Intimacy happens as we show who we really are. Showing who we are requires knowing who we are. This means pausing, looking inside, and being connected to the ever-changing inner world of our feelings and preferences.
We can’t expect others to feel drawn toward us if we’re not willing to take the risk to be vulnerable and reveal the ever-changing textures of our inner world.
Being Mindful of Our Feelings
We often run on automatic pilot—not slowing down enough to look inside and discover what we’re really feeling. As we’re getting to know someone as a potential friend or partner—or perhaps even with our partner or good friend, we might be afraid to share feelings that might be uncomfortable or threatening. We might be afraid of rejection or being seen as weak or pitiful.
Yet if we want close, trusting relationships, we need to know and show what’s going on inside us.
Mindfulness-based practices have become popular these days—and for good reason. Yet teachers of mindfulness and meditation often miss something important—being mindful of our life of feelings. “Spiritual bypassing” is a term that has gained popularity. It refers to a tendency to strive for spiritual growth in a way that circumvents our authentic, though oftentimes uncomfortable, feelings and needs.
Mindfulness is limited if it doesn’t include bringing awareness to our inner life of feelings, such as sadness, hurt, shame, anger, fear, or delight. Mindfulness can be applied to our primary, authentic desires, such as when we need a hug or need to talk. It’s important to know when we feel hurt by a partner’s or friend’s comment so that we don’t allow the relationship to decay due to neglect, false pride, or fear.
Feelings and desires are the way life speaks to us.
Sharing our feelings and needs is an essential way to know each other more intimately. If we keep our emotions and wants hidden, we don’t give people a chance to know us and feel closer to us. We can’t expect intimacy to blossom if we’re not willing to allow ourselves to be seen as we are, which sometimes means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable or a bit awkward.
This isn’t to suggest that we recklessly express every feeling we notice, regardless of the consequences or a person’s capacity to hear us. We need boundaries and a felt sense of when it feels relatively safe and “right” to share our precious feelings with another person.
We often keep our feelings hidden from ourselves, fearful that they might overwhelm us or get us into some kind of trouble. Staying hidden keeps us isolated. Emotional intelligence includes the capacity to identify and manage our emotional life and offer empathy toward others. If we want to be happy in our relationships, we need to enter our world of feelings in an intelligent, mindful way—and then reveal those feelings to people we want to connect with.
Mindfulness of feelings is one of the four foundations of mindfulness in Buddhist Psychology. If we want to live as a conscious, awake person, we need to find ways to access our felt experience.
I’ve found focusing to be a useful complement to meditation.
It is a kind of mindfulness practice that provides a helpful structure for helping us go inside and be with our experience just as it is, without judging ourselves—and listen to the wisdom of our feelings.
If we want more intimate, richer relationships, we need to take intelligent risks to share our authentic feelings with people we want to feel close to, as well as listen empathically when others share their feelings. We need to listen closely to the tender feelings that we might normally bypass.
We need to practice being gentle and accepting of our feelings. Then, even if they are not well received, we are there for ourselves.
Our only real power is to honor and validate our authentic self, even if others don’t respond positively. But if we can find the courage to risk revealing our authentic experience, we might find that others appreciate, respect, and like us even more.