Valuing Presence

In psychotherapy in general, and in research about psychotherapy, the emphasis is mostly on being able to articulate your inner experience. There is a clear benefit to translating inner experience into words, honing a description, and being understood by the listener (the therapist). In fact, in many of our relationships, we expect words and explanation to be the means of building intimacy. Our capacity to describe “How it feels to be me” to another person is an important way to bring that person into our inner world.

While talking is a way of connecting, we may at times forget that talking is not the only way of being together. Especially if we are the articulate one in the relationship, we may discount the importance of just being together, either doing something together or enjoying sitting together. We create an imbalance in the relationship by valuing one means of connection over another, as if talking is more evolved than feeling into each other’s space.

Talking can be mutualizing but it can also be distancing. Over-analyzing another person is a way of distancing, for example. It can also happen that the articulate person creates a “wall of words” that has the effect of separating the two people. It can seem impenetrable and immobile. The articulate person can “spin” events so that he or she looks like the kinder, wiser, or smarter person. In the face of all those words, a person who privileges other ways of connecting can give up.

People act to build intimacy in a variety of ways, and sometimes they vote with their feet. If a person comes home from work earlier in order to spend time together, that counts. If a person washes your car or bakes your favorite cake, that should count. Sometimes the quieter person just wants to sit together without talking. That is not an inferior kind of intimacy. It is another avenue that enriches your being together.

Since I am writing about psychotherapy, I should bring it back from cakes and car washing. Overall, I have noticed that recognizing each person’s way of connecting and communicating greatly enriches the bond that can be created between the psychotherapist and the client. When we can back up and allow the interaction to teach us what it has to teach us, without forcing it into a mold of some kind, either theoretical or personal. A genuine desire to know the other person means we have to be vulnerable and open ourselves; we have to demonstrate a certain level of trust–not just in the other person but also in the process between us.

Ultimately our time has value. It is limited in absolute ways that cannot be negotiated. When we take time to be together, we are giving to each other that valuable gift of time and attention: We are being truly present to each other.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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