4 Reasons Attuning is Key
I used to be terrible at emotionally connecting with my wife. Sure, I told her I loved her all the time, and that didn’t hurt. Honestly, I think she didn’t hear those words most of the time. When the inevitable disagreement came, I would respond with, “That just isn’t logical.”
I learned at an early age to ignore emotions. Emotions, to me, weren’t safe. It was far better to think things through logically. So, I pushed my feelings deep inside and ignored them. Guess what? My wife didn’t feel heard, understood, respected, or cared for when I responded from my rational brain.
I was trying my best to understand my wife, but I failed to establish a real connection with her. I thought that intellectual understanding was understanding. If I could understand her rationally, then I understood her. So, I focused on her thoughts and wholly ignored her emotions. I wanted her to be like me, ignoring feelings and focusing on rational thought.
When I was in my mid-thirties, I joined the leadership team at my church. At my church, I was considered a pastor, although I was a volunteer. People would come to me at times for help. I responded with bible passages and told them how to be better Christians. Basically, people came for help, and I beat them up with the bible. Same thing I did with my wife.
About twenty years ago, my wife and I started to teach marriage classes at our church. I saw lots of couples that were disconnected, struggling, separated, and headed for divorce. I began to look for ways to minister to couples. What works? What doesn’t work?
Guess what? I’ve learned the first step in helping people is to empathize emotionally. I’ve also learned that the best way to help a couple’s relationship is to help them to understand each other at an emotional level.
What makes this such a big deal? Here are four ways that attuning helps people.
Attuning Communicates Positive Care
When you attune to someone’s emotions, it communicates that you care. When someone listens to me, empathizes with my feelings, shows unconditional regard, respect, and warmth, I feel like they care for me.
When someone notices my emotions, I like it. They may say something simple like, “You sound disappointed.” When they get it right, I feel felt. I feel cared for.
When someone dismisses or ignores me, I don’t feel cared for. I don’t feel valuable to that person.
Attuning Helps People to Self-Soothe
When you attune to someone else’s emotions, it helps them self-soothe. Have you ever felt that someone isn’t hearing you? When we don’t feel empathy and validation, our feelings can be more aroused. Perhaps you are tempted to say it louder.
The opposite is also true. It’s easier to self-soothe when someone shows empathy and can understand your emotions. Author and Psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel calls this “name it to tame it.” When someone names your feeling, it helps you be aware of it. Your brain squirts soothing chemicals into your brain.
Constant empathy from someone else helps you to internalize that empathy. Over time, it becomes easier to calm yourself.
Attuning Helps People to Go Deeper
When you attune to someone’s emotions, it helps them go deeper. When someone feels emotionally understood, they can disclose more and find deeper feelings. I have found this to be true for myself and for others.
Someone will say something like, “That must be so frustrating.”
It doesn’t matter if they get it entirely right; it matters that they are trying. When they get it wrong, I might respond, “No, that’s not it. It’s more that I feel upset that I’m misunderstood.”
When they get it right, something goes off inside of me. I might respond, “That’s it exactly. I’m frustrated with it, and I think it’s because of…”
The empathic attunement helps me to go into my deeper emotions and meanings.
Attuning Helps Transformation
When you attune to someone, it can help them to transform. When someone attunes to me, I feel understood. It helps me go deeper into my emotions and find additional meaning. In other words, it helps to become aware of why I react in some way.
After my father passed away, I attended a grief group. The group had great material about processing grief and understanding loss. It was a Christian group, and they often had bible passages about turning to God and inviting Him into the process. I found myself irritated by these passages.
The more weeks I attended, the more they annoyed me. That was bizarre to me. I agree that you should ask God for help. I mentioned this in the group, and someone responded with empathy and wanted to understand. I expressed how bothered I was by those passages. I said, “They feel so suffocating to me.”
Rather than correct me, the group listened and empathized. It allowed me to realize that I tend to use bible passages like “rejoice in the Lord always” to stuff my feelings of grief and loss. I was incorrectly using these verses to stop my grieving process.
When I came to that realization, it helped me to let go. The group’s empathy helped me be honest with my feelings, which allowed me to transform.
Mentor, Friend, or Spouse
Whether you are mentoring someone else, listening to a friend, or listening to your spouse, attunement will help the other person. They feel cared for, can soothe their emotions, deepen the dialog, and leads to change.
Tips for Marriage Mentors
- Notice the emotions – Being empathetic helps people to heal.
- Stay with the feelings – Allow the person to go deeper and find their uncovered emotions and hidden meanings.
- Accept the feelings – Stay away from advice and allow the person to feel.
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This post is the first in a 3-part series: