What do I believe disconnects us the most from each other? A lack of presence. We have become more and more OK with being in the same room ignoring each other. My sons love to turn on the TV to a Simpson’s marathon and then scroll through their phones for the next hour. They barely make eye contact with the TV and rarely speak to each other during this time.
I have noticed more engagement with the TV and each other when we all watch a critical football game or Shaun White perform at the olympics. It takes significant events we don’t want to miss, to keep us present.
What is presence? It is an acceptance of what is, being open to life as it emerges, moment by moment.
It seems we treat much of life and our relationships like a Simpson’s marathon. We feel like it will always be there and it is not worthy of our full attention. With long-term relationships — including those with family members — we assume we know every nuance and go on autopilot.
Technology makes it so easy for us to drift to a screen versus making eye contact with someone who might expect something from us.
But this shortage of true presence is leaving us feeling empty and disconnected. It is difficult to feel loved and secure if we have not made eye contact or had a reflective conversation with someone in a week.
How do we get present with someone?
For the sensitive
For those of us with highly sensitive nervous systems, our innate strong reactions to novelty and stimulation (which are everywhere) can preoccupy us so much that they block our connection and ability to establish presence with someone.
But if we can learn to be present with our sensitive proclivities and in Dr. Dan Siegel’s words, see them as ” a natural human concern about newness and uncertainty”, we build resilience. We have to let our feelings or inner thoughts rise without attaching judgment to them. We let them unfold and dissipate, rather than giving them too much attention and energy.
For those with less sensitive natures, relationships and their external influence, play a major role determining ability to stay present.
Sifting to resonate
To attain presence with someone, all of us need to find a way to resonate with what is going on in their inner world. We can do that by using Dr. Siegel’s acronym, S.I.F.T. We can ask questions or listen for clues that tell us what Sensations the other person feels inside. We pay attention to the Images they mention. We take note of Feelings someone expresses or describes and lastly, ask about the Thoughts they experience. In essence, we create a space for them to reflect inwardly.
By SIFTing through another’s inner world and letting what we find affect us internally, we create resonance between us. We help them feel “felt”. Feeling felt or feeling seen, safe and soothed is the essence of secure attachment.
SIFTing and resonance lead to empathy, understanding and greater presence.
It is easy to get lost in our expectations. We all have them. When we are not present, we are not open to what is happening as it happens. We expect the other person to conform to the outcomes we predict.
For example, our husband may usually be the kind of man who seems to have everything under control. He’s mentioned he hasn’t been hungry lately and you’ve noticed he’s losing weight but you assume he’s fine because he has not said anything is wrong.
Taking the time to be present with him by sitting close and looking into his eyes while asking how he’s feeling, could be the invitation he needs to share how he’s been worried about the slow down in business at work.
Just because things have been one way in the past does not mean we can rely on them to be the same in the future.
Stay open. Don’t get lost in what you expect. That can lead to missing important clues to the status of someone’s well-being.
By meeting someone where they are in their reflection process and giving them a safe space to explore and share what is going on inside of them, we connect with them and gain their trust.
The key is to start and stay with connection. It’s so tempting to start fixing or sharing our own story once someone reveals what they are thinking or feeling. It’s fine to share your own similar experience to show empathy or resonance but don’t get lost in your own tale. Stick with the other person’s experience.
It is also easy to slip into judging or concerning ourselves with someone’s external behavior. We want to give advice or correct a behavior that doesn’t meet our expectations, but this lessens presence and chips away at trust.
We preserve the connection and presence by responding to exactly what was shared — no deviations to defensiveness, our autobiography, behavioral correction, a totally different subject, or God forbid, our technology.
Have you noticed you’re on autopilot lately? What is one way you could improve your relationship presence?