Friday, November 30, 2012
Stan Dale, the founder of the Human Awareness Institute, taught me a wonderful definition of what "intimacy" is: "in-to-me-I-see." Our ability to look deeply into ourselves, know ourselves and love ourselves provides a foundation for others to look deeply into us, know us and love us deeply. To be loved for who we are, we need to feel safe and secure enough in who we are to let others see us for who we are. To be able to be intimate, however, requires a kind of steady loving presence, be it with self or other. True intimacy cannot grow in a climate of judgment. Joel and Michelle Levy send out wonderful quotes of the day, and here is one that provides a wonderful illustration of what love really means: "Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused." --African Saying If we have created the intimacy of loving relationship, and we are deeply seen by someone who loves us, they can remind us of our goodness, our beauty and our wholeness at those moments when we may lose touch with these fundamental truths. Intimacy offers not only a mirror of depth and soulfulness, but also a reminder of our inherent goodness, and the true worth and value of who we are deep down inside. I have often felt intimacy is a food group for the soul. Without it, our souls starve. And with intimacy in gentle abundance, we are nourished and appreciated for who we really are.
In her 1997 book, The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron described the experience of "high sensitivity" as neither a weakness nor a choice, but a matter of wiring and physiology. According to her research, about 15 - 20% of the population qualifies as "highly sensitive." And interestingly enough, equal numbers of men and women have been found to be highly sensitive. While sensitivity overall may be judged as more of a curse than a blessing in many circles, especially the business world, because of gender stereotypes, it is more likely more acceptable to viewed as a highly sensitive as a woman than as a man. If a man is highly sensitive, what does he do in a world full of stereotypes of male tough guys, emotionless corporate leaders and bullies who pick on anyone who shows an inkling of vulnerability? Poet Rick Belden wrote about his experience as a "highly sensitive man," noting that "being a sensitive man remains misunderstood." He describes an experience of trying to get closer with a woman he liked, someone he had worked together with for several years. He had written a book of published poetry and shared it with her. When he asked her what he thought, the response was not what he had hoped for. "I think you are abnormally sensitive for a man," she told him. How sad. And at some level, how tragic. Here, a man took the risk of showing his vulnerable side, and instead of being appreciated, he was judged in a negative way. Belden notes that as a boy, he was humiliated countless times for his sensitivity by both adults and other children. In a culture that attributes tenderness, compassion and sensitivity as primarily feminine qualities, Belden asked "how can I be as sensitive as I am and still be a man?" Belden notes a blogpost by Peter Messerschmidt: "Society has an alarming ability to 'steal the souls' of Highly Sensitive Men, leaving them feeling sad and confused." Our culture lacks heart in so many ways, and more fundamentally lacks emotionally safety. We have to be careful where we let down our guard or disclose our vulnerabilities. Belden also cites Ted Zeff, author of The Strong, Sensitive Boy: "By disowning their sensitive side, many males become half a person." While it hurts to show vulnerability and be judged or attacked, it may hurt even more not to be able to be who you are. One could argue that there is STRENGTH in sensitivity, not weakness, and the sensitive person--male or female--has a special and valuable power to express himself/herself and relate to other people at a much deeper level than the "non-sensitive" person. In fact, the power of sensitivity can add richness and meaning to the experience of life. It takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes courage to exercise sensitivity. Yet vulnerability and sensitivity can be stronger forces than intellect or brute strength. Sensitivity can pierce the veil of isolation that entraps so many people, perhaps more men than women, walking the earth. Self-acceptance may be the most powerful tool for the highly sensitive man. If you accept yourself for who you are and how you are, then your sensitivity becomes a kind of compassionate sword or even sword of precision discernment, rather than an open wound. If we bring more of the power of the heart to our culture, perhaps highly sensitive men will be held in higher regard than their less sensitive, more analytical counterparts. We need to redefine what power and strength really mean. And when we bring the power of the heart forward, we respect and admire the highly sensitive man, and the gifts he can bring to those he loves and the world at large.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
When women speak, do men really hear them? After years of studying communication patterns between men and women, Allison Armstrong, creator of the "Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women," workshops discovered that women may not realize men hear best when spoken to in a more natural "male language." Given the history of male and female roles in the evolution of our species, where men were hunters as women tended the home and hearth, men are biologically wired to solve problems, and focus on immediate tasks at hand to protect and care for their loved ones. If a woman uses language that resonates with his desire to protect, solve and care, her words will be most effectively heard. Allison looked at what made men and women feel safest. For men, producing creates safety. When his ability to produce is thwarted, a man will feel a sense of tension or anxiety. If a man is trusted and respected, he feels supported in his efforts to produce results. Women, on the other hand, need connection to feel safe. When a women can't connect, she may feel at risk, unsafe and all alone. Attention and interest help a woman feel connected, If a woman does not feel connected, she will experience tension and anxiety. Here is where understanding male language makes a world of difference. If a good man wants to help, protect or provide for a woman, but the way she is speaking to him does not give him a clear target or a likelihood of success, the woman may actually be thwarting the best intentions of the good man. Here is an example: A woman really wants her partner to go with her to see a movie. Her greatest desire is to have him sit beside her and be close to her, so she can feel connected. If she asks, "Hey, do you want to see 'XYZ' movie with me, the man may very well say no, unless he happens to be really interested in that movie." The woman will feel disappointed, because he won't be sharing time with her. If instead she asks her question in a way that gives her male partner a better target, "Hey, I love to spend time with you and feel connected to you. Going to see "XYZ" movie on Saturday would make me really happy," the answer is more likely to be yes. Realizing that good men WANT to make their loved ones happy helps a woman understand that it is not just what she wants but how she communicates what she wants that makes all the difference in her connection with the man she loves. Men respond well to language that gives them a clear target. Being told, "here is a problem I have to solve," gives a clear target. Being told, "I need help with the following situation," also gives a clear target. Because men want to make the women they love happy, being told what will make a woman happy also gives a man a clear target. Being able to success at solving a problem, helping or making a woman happy, gives a man the good feeling of producing, which helps him feel safe and successful. When the woman sees that the man she loves is indeed solving problems, helping and doing things that make her happy, she feels connected and loved. Perhaps much of the tension between men and women can be eased by understanding some of our primal drives and language that can help us bridge the gender gap. How men and women react to problems is different based on this wiring. Men tend to hone in on a very specific goal and keep a very strong focus until the goal is achieved. If a man decides the goal is not likely achievable, he will quickly drop it and move on to something else that is more likely to yield success. Women, who are biologically charged with the task of keeping babies alive, will come up with an endless list of possibilities how to solve a problem, care for a loved one and make a relationship work. If something that really matters does not seem achievable, women are less likely to drop it and more likely to find a creative way to succeed, against all odds.
We often hear that forgiveness is a virtue, something to always aspire to. Forgiveness leaves people happier and healthier than those who ruminate and hold grudges. The theory goes, that if you can forgive, you can forget. This may be true in many cases, but according to research by Jim McNulty at the Florida State University in Tallahassee, forgiveness can also have its costs. If the person you are forgiving repeats their troubling behavior or takes your forgiveness as a license to behave badly again, there is danger that the forgiver can turn into a "doormat," rather than a hero. Professor McNulty, according to a study cited in the Wall Street Journal, studied the diaries of 135 newlywed couples, and asked each partner to answer the same question each day for a week: "Did your spouse do something today that you didn't like and did you forgive him or her?" He discovered that for people who forgave their partner, they were 6.5 times more likely to report that their partner had done something negative again, in comparison with partners who did not offer forgiveness. In other words, forgiveness of bad behavior can let people off the hook for behaving badly. Dr McNulty notes, "The potential cost of forgiveness is that it doesn't hold the partner accountable for their behavior." Sadly, being a soft touch or having a good heart can turn you into a doormat. If you don't stand up and confront a bully, someone who has transgressed your boundaries or someone who has taken your goodness for granted, you might find yourself feeling like the sacrificial lamb. McNulty found that people who withheld forgiveness fared better than those who offered it when relating to people who repeatedly transgressed known boundaries. It is one thing to forgive a nice person, who made an innocent or unconscious mistake. If the transgressor feels badly about their behavior when called on their mistake and ultimately wants to work to preserve mutuality and equity in a relationship, then forgiveness can be an act of love. Forgiving a person who has demonstrated that they either don't know or don't care about the impact of their behavior on others, may not be the best choice for a healthy relationship. The moral of the story: don't offer forgiveness carte blanche. See if your transgressor is a caring, kind person who will feel remorse for having hurt you and take actions to correct their behavior or if your transgressor shrugs off your hurt as though you and it don't matter. Only forgive those people who truly deserve your forgiveness And as the serenity prayers says, let go of the rest.