How many of us have come away from an interaction with a friend or relative and thought – wow that was unsatisfying!
It is often puzzling as this drawing suggests — what did I bring to the interaction — what did they bring? What happened?
I had such an experience last week with a dear friend and colleague. It was so inspiring to unravel what happened and feel the regret for my part.
Brene Brown defines connection from her research as:
“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
I retraced my steps with my friend. I am deep into the study of ‘near enemies’ of connection and compassion. They are these tricky/masquerading moments when we make a comment or add something to the conversation that looks like a kind, responsive contribution but actually stops the connection cold.
Here is what happened; I catch a quick lunch with this friend. She mentions that she is having a hard time because her partner is working two jobs and she is not seeing much of him. I suggest that the situation is temporary and will pass. This sounded nice enough, kind enough, even true enough but shut the connection down. What if I had opened up instead of closed down with a dismissive, minimizing comment. What if I had allowed myself to tune into the suffering she is experiencing? We all use these near enemies to avoid another’s suffering. And of course our own. Later she mentions that her daughter, who is home from college has been sick and she has not had the time with her she had hoped for. She was feeling a lot of feelings. What if I had tuned in to them instead of mentioning that she still had a few more weeks until her daughter went back to school? Darn I did it again. Shut the connection down cold!
The antidote to these near enemies that destroy connection is open, attunement. Allowing yourself to walk along with the others experience and when you are unable to do this to be more curious. Was she feeling lonely, disappointed, maybe even worse feelings like abandonment or some other distress? To slow down in moments like this and really feel the other — that is what we all long for.
Although I did not realize what I was doing in the moment, we both felt it. She said, “it always feels so rushed when we are together.” I commented on her earrings, reaching for the connection that I had missed.
Later when I was able to replay the conversation and realized that I had deployed that little sneaky near enemy so skillfully, I allowed myself to feel regret.
I shared the experience with her and I just savor, like the finest wine of connection, what she said. “It really is so engrained in us all to want to soothe the other without allowing whatever is there to just be there, to allow suffering to do its all-important job. When you stated that you felt sad for the missed opportunity, my automatic response was to say something like “don’t feel sad”…but quickly realized nooo, you get to experience a moment of regret. And it’s not bad, in fact it’s giving you a message on how you get the opportunity to expand from it. And by sharing, I too am expanding!!”
I looked up regret in Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart and she says that we seldom allow ourselves to feel regret because it is often so dominated by shame. With this friend, and at this juncture of my journey I did not feel any shame and the purity of regret is very beautiful. For me this regret was a failure of kindness and there is always more room for kindness. It is a beautiful teacher – one that promises that the future will be brighter and less lonely as we embrace this curriculum.
There are still a few spaces left in the 3-part series Revealing The Near Enemy: Deepening Your Capacity For Compassion And Authentic Connection beginning January 12th. There are more details on my website if you are interested.