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Authentizität in Beziehungen

von NFI Redaktion

“In uncertain relationships, we hide our vulnerability, so our partner never really sees us.”

Dr. Sue Johnson

Will You Be There for Me?

According to Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), most arguments in relationships are protests against emotional disconnection. Amidst the conflicts, partners ask themselves: Will you be there for me? Can I rely on you? Am I important to you? Do you value and accept me?

We all seek secure connections with our loved ones. This attachment allows us to feel safe and emotionally dependent on each other for care and protection. This is crucial for our emotional well-being. In a healthy dependency, we feel secure enough to step out of our comfort zone and take risks, knowing that we have someone by our side who cares for us.

John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, emphasized that our ability to engage with others and form close, intimate connections is the ultimate barometer of healthy functioning. Isn’t this what our modern society lacks today? While surrounded by many people online and in real life, many individuals feel lonely and disconnected. Many are afraid of truly being seen and vulnerable, as it was not safe for them before. Even in stable relationships, people struggle to appear authentic. They often feel disconnected from their partners. They feel invisible, unknown, and lonely.

Loneliness is not about being alone; it’s about feeling disconnected from others, even in a room full of people. To feel less lonely, we need authentic relationships. Many singles believe they will never feel lonely again once they find „the right one,“ yet many people in relationships feel completely alone.

Our Need for Co-Regulation

Brain scan studies by J. Coan align with Bowlby’s concept of „contact comfort,“ the idea that secure relationships create the perception of a safer world. Visual perception studies also show that when standing alone in front of a hill, our brain actually perceives the hill to be higher than if we had a friend with us. This indicates that the brain already considers proximity to social resources in basic perceptual processes (Schnall, Harber, Stefanucci, & Proffitt, 2008; Gross & Profitt, 2013). We need others by our side, people we can count on and rely on. Research shows that co-regulating with someone who feels safe for us is the most effective form of regulation, even more so than self-regulation.

What Blocks Stand in the Way?

So what hinders authenticity in relationships? Is it straightforward to find the right person? Is it about commitment? Unfortunately, even with partners we think are right for us, there may be struggles in showing authenticity. To be authentic, we must first feel safe and secure. It’s challenging to open up to someone and let go of vigilance when we believe they could judge and criticize us, or reject and abandon us.

Our past wounds also don’t help. Usually, we have experiences of showing authenticity and getting hurt. Sometimes, this goes back to our childhood. Early on, we learn who we should be, what we should do, and what we shouldn’t do to be accepted. We all want to belong, so we’ll do anything not to be avoided by our caregivers. Later in life, we may experience severe separations, ridicule from someone we love, betrayal, bullying, and more, leaving traces and making us feel insecure, reluctant to open ourselves to this world. As I always say, people are hurt and healed in relationships.

Past Trauma

>Trauma can also occur with well-meaning individuals who simply don’t know better, struggle with their own barriers, and are unaware of them. We tend to view trauma as significant, life-changing events like abuse, wars, assaults, natural disasters, etc. But trauma is primarily about perception. What one person perceives as traumatic may not be perceived as trauma by another. While major traumas are evident, many smaller traumas can be subtle. Yet, they can accumulate and influence a person’s view of themselves, others, and the world. Sometimes, traumas are what should have happened but didn’t. Therefore, life experiences like neglect in childhood, absent and inattentive parents, parents who disciplined us strictly and were critical, bullying, painful separations, betrayal in friendships and business ventures, can be traumatic.

Healing Begins with Emotional Safety

Sharing vulnerable attachments in relationships builds bonds. Our deepest need for a tangible sense of connection is fulfilled when our partner provides a secure space for us to express ourselves. When our partner truly listens to us, we feel seen. Then it becomes easier to be authentic. Unfortunately, many couples find it difficult to listen to each other during conflict conversations. It’s crucial to keep our own agendas in check and truly hear what our partners are saying to understand them on a deeper level. This not only aids in problem-solving but also creates emotional safety, necessary for someone to show authenticity.

Need for Repair

We can’t always be the perfect partner, parent, or friend. We are human and make mistakes. But what we can do is show up and mend ruptures with our loved ones. John Gottman’s research shows us that happy couples also have conflicts. However, when there is a rupture, a conversation that didn’t go well, they get back on track through repair attempts. This is the „secret weapon“ of a happy couple. So, to create a sense of security, we must know how to mend things, how to apologize, and how to make our partner feel safe to share more.

Authenticity in relationships isn’t possible in an environment rife with contempt, shame, harshness, betrayal, and pain. In this scenario, our protective parts take over. However, creating a safe space in your relationship where you are on the same team and handle each other gently can be the beginning of the emotional safety necessary for a healthy relationship.

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