Guest post by Tal Prince.
We have all sat through some roll calls in our life, and the more formal authority figures sometimes required us to respond, “present.”
What did you mean when you answered? Did you mean that you were fully there, or did you mean that you were merely physically in the room?
For most of us, we meant we were physically there, but that was about it.
Is that true for you during staff meetings and lunches with friends? Is it sometimes true in your marriage or with your children?
It is so easy these days to be physically present, but mentally and emotionally distracted. Of all the shortages we have in our world, we are not suffering a shortage for distraction.
As a therapist, I see some fairly common challenges with being present in a session.
None of those more illustrative than the troubled married couple coming in and one spouse is desperate to talk about some disturbing issues. They have usually been waiting with baited breath to get into my office to finally air out the challenges of the past week. The other comes in, quietly takes their seat on the sofa and steels themselves to endure the hour.
Maybe you have been there - I certainly have.
The conflict begins to rage within the first 10 minutes or so, and the gloves are off.
What began as an attempt at stonewalling starts to crack under the withering assault of a spouse desperate to engage. This segment usually ends with the following declaration, “What do you want from me? I’m here, aren’t I?”
And we are back in class - roll is being called, and the spouse responds that he/she is present, but only physically.
How To Melt A Baby
Back in 1978 Dr. Edward Tronick and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments that illustrate the power of being fully present.
They also show the incredible destructive power of mere physical presence in a relationship.
They became known as The Still Face Experiments.
Wanna see? Watch this clip.
Amazing isn’t it? It is painful every time I watch those babies in distress.
We all have the ability to “still face” people with whom we are in a relationship.
I know I have “still faced” my wife, co-workers, and children. They make bids for my attention, but I “still face” them. Sometimes it is unintentional, and as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes it is intentional.
What about you? Have you ever “still-faced” anyone? Maybe a staff member, or your spouse?
You have most certainly been the recipient of a still face. It can create such a panic within our hearts and minds.
Still-facing anyone is corrosive to any relationship, just look at how quickly the babies all dissolved.
Less than 3 minutes.
The Power of Presence
What does it look like for you to be fully present?
Maybe you’re like me, and you never learned how the necessary skills to be fully present.
Sadly, it took me going to rehab and sitting in a room with five other addicts, and my primary therapist to learn how to be fully present.
It started on a February Tuesday morning when my therapist asked, “Tal, how are you feeling this morning?” I stuttered out the standard cultural male response, “Good, thanks.”
“Good is not an emotion, I asked how are you feeling,” he replied.
I fired back, a little less confident, “umm, fine?”
“No, Tal, fine is not an emotion either. How are you feeling right now?”
My mind was blank as I scrambled to find an acceptable answer, but nothing came out. I was sitting in a chair with six other men staring at me awaiting my response to the question, how are you feeling?
It quickly became apparent; I didn’t know what I was feeling, or how to say it. I lacked the emotional intelligence to do either.
I knew it was unpleasant, but not much else. Thomas, my therapist, pointed out the feelings chart on the wall with cartoon faces and feeling words written next to them and told me to use that. I stared at the chart in amazement, and then instead of saying the words that matched my feelings, I pointed out a green face with a wavy smile and said, “that one!”
Thomas replied, “Say the words that describe what you are feeling.” I read the words, “embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid.” With a quick nod from him, he said, “Great” and then asked the next man in the group and he repeated nearly the same exercise.
I was in a room with two surgeons, an attorney, a politician and a pilot, and none of us could say how we were feeling.
How Am I Feeling?
It is a remarkable gift to give yourself - check in with yourself and ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?”
Many of us don’t get much beyond the big three - happy, sad, and angry. This is sad because it is hard to be anything more than physically present with anyone if we don’t know how we are feeling.
This is a basic building block to being fully present.
That's A Mighty Big Wheel You Have There...
I want to give you a tool that will be helpful for you. It is called The Feelings Wheel.
For many of you, it is surprising to see how many feeling words there are, and I can assure you, this is barely scratching the surface.
Astonishing, I know.
I have most of my clients do this exercise a minimum of 7 times a day - they have to ask themselves how they are feeling, and then using this exact feelings wheel, they pick out 3-5 words that describe what they are feeling, and then they email those to me for accountability’s sake.
The results are amazing.
These men are learning to be fully present with themselves because we need to learn that before we can hope to be fully present for others.
We have often “still faced” ourselves into all manner of distress, but we don’t know how to fix it.
If you’ll do this simple exercise several times a day, and then share the results here with us, or with others, you’ll soon be amazed how present you are in other areas of your life - and your relationships.
If you will go the extra step, and share these emotions with God in prayer - because after all, isn’t that what a great deal of the Psalms are about? - you’ll soon notice that your relationship with God is becoming closer and more intimate.
This is what intimacy is - sharing our hearts with each other. It starts with knowing how we are feeling, and how to communicate that.
When you are ready for a challenge, begin to share with your spouse and family how you are feeling. Why not give them the same feelings wheel, and ask them to do the same?
So - how are you feeling today?
Do The Next Right Thing
- Use the feelings wheel to find words for your feelings.
- Write down how you feel. [Bonus] Share those feelings with someone you trust.
- For more about relational health and the power of presence, download a FREE overview of the Five Factors of healthy leadership.