In the quest for human fulfillment and self actualization, we all yearn to find satisfaction in our relationships with others. We are desperate for it. The desire to have life-giving relationships is likely the reason why we pursue therapy, go on dating apps, or adopt pets. We want, so deeply, to be known by another, even if we find ourselves regularly thinking - or saying out loud - that we don't like people that much.
The experience of relational knowing and seeing has a technical term: attunement. It is one of three critical components to all healthy relating.
Attunement, put simply, is being able to adequately and accurately read someone. Attunement is being upset and someone else noticing. It happens when you feel flustered as you're trying to order at a restaurant and the server smoothly provides timely suggestions (or gives you space to think about it). Attunement happens when you are struggling to find the words to say how you feel and the person you're talking with somehow knows exactly what you mean and synthesizes the information right before your eyes.
Attunement provides a soothing sense of relief. It's a cool glass of lemonade on a blisteringly hot day. Attunement - those moments when you feel intimately known - actually administers a drop of dopamine into your body when it happens. That revitalizing sense of, "ahh, that's the spot; you totally get me," isn't just in your head - you are chemically receiving pleasure as it happens. Attunement is the best addiction we could ever have, yet is often the least satiated hunger we all yearn for daily.
Were you well attuned to when you were young? Childhood memories are the first place to be curious about when we are considering the presence of attunement in our current relationships. When you were broken-hearted in high school, did a parent not even notice? When your behaviors changed for the worst, did your caregiver fail to sit you down in a way that made you feel safe, heard, and supported? As you tried to make healthy decisions, did a parent misinterpret your motives?
These are all examples of failed attunement. If this failure happened regularly, it likely left you starving for affection and attention and prevented you from understanding how to get it.
How present is attunement in your life today? Do loved ones know how to engage you when you are upset? Do they detect when your wellness changes?
The problem with experiencing failed attunement in young years is that it basically sets you up to (unconsciously) sabotage chances for attunement in adulthood. How easy do you make it to be known by others? Do you hide yourself when you are upset or hurting? Do you become so hysterical or unregulated that other people are forced to back away from you?
We were made to be known. To be seen and still loved. To be naked and not ashamed.
Can you, even if just for a moment, acknowledge that you want to be loved?
Can you, even if just for this moment, commit to opening your heart up to being seen in areas when you would usually hide?
Might you agree to invite others to know you without screwing up their efforts? Will you give feedback, invitation, or clarification so that others can more deeply know your heart rather than feel spurned by you?
This is part one of a three-part series. Stay tuned for parts two and three.