feeling felt

i am giving you all the heads up. mothers day is coming up and the women in your life know it. it amazes me how many ads and offers are coming my way one month in advance of may 12. today alone i received offers to send my mother on a “girlfriend get away” to las vegas, to order a “beautiful custom made photo book” for a mere $29, or to schedule botox injections for her. i’m not sure how to feel. my mom wouldn’t necessarily love any of these gifts.

days like mothers day are rarely easy for anyone. for women who wish they were mothers (or wish they were partnered) this day is often one that stings. for mothers whose families have decided that mothers day is simply a day manufactured by card and gift companies to make a profit, the day often falls short as their own wishes for recognition are buried under their family’s boycotting. for women whose partners take the stand that “she’s the kids’ mother not mine,” or who don’t have partners in the picture at all, the day often comes and goes with little to no fanfare.

what i am left with as i ponder the offers in my inbox and the complexity of emotions stirred by the upcoming day set aside to recognize a certain group of people, is the awareness that we all want to be celebrated. we all want to be seen. to be known. to be felt.

in the psychological literature on interpersonal neurobiology you will frequently find the term “feeling felt.” it was coined by daniel siegel (who, after mr. rogers, is my hero) in his book parenting from the inside out and refers, i think (please forgive me daniel if you ever stumble across this blog and i’ve misrepresented you), to the ability of one person to empathically and authentically encounter another person deeply. when one has felt felt they experience a profound sense of having been been with. the person who is feeling felt is touched somehow by the effort the other is making to tune into their thoughts, feelings, needs, and experiences. beyond just being “listened” or “attended” to, the “felt” person’s gut/soul/authentic self is met. 

i’m guessing that you can identify a time when you have either felt felt or not. mother’s day, father’s day, valentine’s day, birthdays are all days where people often feel far less than felt. instead they often feel forgotten, unknown (consider the non domestic mom who receives a blender for mothers day), or placated (think generic ecard sent at midnight). why is this?

i believe that one of the unfortunate consequences of our hyper-connected, everything-available-at-the-drop-of-a-hat zeitgeist is a lack of persistence in feeling others. rather than working hard to truly be with the important people in our lives, we substitute knowing alot about what they are doing. we troll facebook and instagram, we follow our friends and family’s tumblr pages, we send “i love you” texts and “i’m thinking about you” snapchats. we log on to send itunes gift certificates on our special days and type birthday messages into each others’ feeds. 

none of these forms of expressions are bad. they aren’t wrong. they have their place and serve the purpose of connectedness at differing levels. they are rarely, however, the kinds of expressions that lead one to feel truly felt. similarly, gifting your mom a girl friend get away would be exceedingly generous, ordering a professionally made book for her could bring her to tears. neither of these gifts, however, necessarily trumps much simpler gifts that might express your ability to “feel” your mom, to truly “be with” her in such a way that you experience her most authentic self. then honor it. or gift it. or celebrate it. and not just your mother’s...

the trouble is, our screen time is taken directly from the time we used to spend talking to each other, interacting with each other, and being engaged in our own imaginative processing (which included thinking about the important people in our lives). this has resulted in a decrease in our tolerance for awkward moments, pregnant pauses, and interpersonal experiences of all kinds. we just aren’t as experienced at being with people as we used to be. we hardly know how to “feel” ourselves let alone each other. we have fewer and fewer opportunities to practice the uncomfortable art of “being with” others through both comfortable and uncomfortable encounters. we have little need to rely on others around us since our technologies serve both as best friend and chief occupier of time and energy. who needs to borrow a cup of sugar (which involves the awkward opportunity to knock on a neighbor’s door, introduce one’s self, ask a favor, then return the favor later) when you can order a 5 pound bag from your iphone and have it in hand within the hour? we don’t have to expect much from others and hope others don’t expect much of us in return.

the way in which we encounter and honor others reflects this seismic change in how we relate. we send more “i love you” texts than we ever sent letters (or maybe said the words face to face) and yet how often do we “love” someone in person? we pound out multiple facebook birthday greetings without taking a moment or two to genuinely consider the person we are wishing well. we spend money at the gift card center online (or in the store) when a handwritten note, a considered knick knack, or a simple phone call might mean more to the recipient who wants to feel felt. who wants to be known. for who they are. as a person.

every day we are given opportunities to be with those we encounter. we can simply meet them, letting our own internal dialogue and comfort levels dictate the tone of the meeting or we can endeavor to “be with” or “feel” them, opening the door to deeper, more awkward, unknown, wonderful, anxious, exciting, and beautiful relatedness. a relatedness that groupon gifts might never touch. and what a relief...we don’t have to give “the perfect” gift when giving ourselves is enough.