Do You Want to Be Right, or Do You Want to Be Seen?

If-you-are-out-toAnything you push down is going to come back up four times harder; the truth will out, as the saying goes. So much harm is done when we try to deny our own reality. You feel the way you feel. Other people do not have to agree with your feelings in order for them to be valid. People in your life may be uncomfortable with your emotions or your ideas about how things are or how they were; two or more people can grow up in the same house with wildly different memories. Partners in a long-term relationship may have two very different stories to tell at the end of a decade. Only a confused person would suggest that what you’re experiencing in your own body, in your own heart and your own mind is somehow wrong or not accurate. You’ll never convince anyone that their feelings are wrong (although you might make a person question their sanity after awhile), nor will anyone convince you. You might kindly hold up a mirror if a person is sure that they feel the way they feel because of you, because that would be inaccurate.

No one else can make you feel anything, unless you let them. People can be thoughtless, cruel, selfish, neglectful, and abusive. How you feel about that, and what you choose to do in response, is up to you. People can also be loving, kind, thoughtful, understanding and there for you. How you feel about that and how you choose to respond is also up to you.

If you love someone, you have to want to understand where they’re coming from. You have to want to embrace their pain, it’s part of the deal. You do not have to agree with it. You may feel the pain is very old and has little to do with you, and you may be right, or you may be struggling with guilt and shame over your own culpability, your own contributions. When we truly love someone, we want to be close. We choose to listen and we seek to comprehend. That’s intimacy. It’s not always a comfortable process. It takes two people, willing to stand there naked, with all their beauty and all their raw, unhealed wounds. It’s extremely helpful when a person knows themselves well. It makes accountability so much easier, and I’m big on that. We are all going to screw up. No one gets out alive, and no one gets out without making mistakes, some big, some small. This is how we learn and evolve. The birthing process is painful. Being able to identify what is yours, to acknowledge when you’ve blown it, to be able to say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” is such a gift. If you’ve created a safe space for your relationship, you’re likely to be met with a hug when you do.

If the space between you and your loved ones has become polluted with rage, bitterness and resentment, with attachment to being right, then true intimacy is not possible. You cannot expect anyone to be willing to be vulnerable in a war zone when they feel likely to be attacked, especially if they’re being attacked over how they feel. There’s nothing more crushing to a person, more alienating than being told their feelings are wrong. Can you imagine telling a five year old they’re wrong to be sad when they’re crying? I mean, parents do it all the time, unintentionally (“Don’t be sad”), but when you really stop to think about it, the ability to hold and acknowledge the feeling for someone is so liberating. “You’re sad, I see that, I feel that, I’m here.” Enough said. Why is it different with a forty-five year old? If you’re sad, angry, confused or disappointed, that’s how it is in this moment, that’s real.

Not everyone is going to be able to do that for you; it isn’t something we’re taught but you can do it for yourself. You can acknowledge your feelings and sit with them. You can hold them and say, “I feel sad. That’s how it is right now,” and that can be enough, that can be so freeing. If you do that for your partner consistently, they’ll start to understand how good that feels, and they may start doing it for you, too. If you do that for your children, they will probably grow up to be adults who do that for you and for all the people in their lives. It’s a gift. There’s a struggle against it because we have so much attachment to being right, or to being seen in a certain light. Sometimes we’re attached to that for ourselves; we can’t bear to see our own fallibility. If you paid dearly for your small mistakes growing up, you may have to do a lot of work on forgiveness, on being kind to yourself, on self-compassion. Sometimes we’re attached to other people seeing us in a particular way, but if you really want to be seen and known, you have to show yourself and you have to be willing to embrace it all, in yourself and in the people you encounter. Love requires your active participation, your desire, and your determination to be brave enough to be vulnerable.

Wishing you love and wishing you strength,

Ally Hamilton

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