The older I get, the more self-aware I get. I’m not sure if it’s actually maturity in age and experiences, or if it’s due to the fact that people of all ages are pursuing personal growth. There are definitely more and different conversations being had today around mental well-being than ever before. Thankfully. But I will say that based on my own personal experiences with relationships in the past, I know how I want to act and what kinds of honest and healthy connections I want to have with the people I love. And that means that when I blow it, and sometimes I do, I know I want to make it right. But in order to do so without wanting to defend myself and/or my actions, I must understand WHY acted the way I did in the first place.
Okay, let me be plain in what I mean with this example.
Just recently, I had a conversation with one of my adult children. It was a regular “catch up” conversation with normal questions and light-hearted banter. Then one sentence was said by my child: “Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t think of you when I was making those plans.” My answer back was quick and honest, “Baby, don’t worry. It’s totally fine.” And it was. In that moment. But then something ELSE happened with that child later that stacked on top of that, and I reacted in a harsh way. I was feeling vulnerable and desperate, and it made me react to the second event in a very graspy or what I like to call earning-energy way. Earning-energy can look several different ways. It can include trying too hard, people pleasing, and over-functioning, but can also look like defending ourselves, manipulation, and emotionally exerting pressure. The crazy thing is, we do this all because of one of our basic human needs.
For me, both stacked events became a trigger which scratched open an old wound that wasn’t totally healed. I didn’t like that I felt so vulnerable. But certainly, I didn’t like the way I acted out of that vulnerability. I felt the weight of it all the minute we hung up the phone. And in my desire for personal growth and for healthier relationships, I wanted to understand why I had that strong reaction. It wasn’t normal. And it sure didn’t feel good. So, why did I react that way?
I teach my coaching clients a self-awareness tool that helps them explore their own minds and come to those most important ah-ha moments of clarity and new perspectives. And of course, because I know it works for them, I know it works for me, too. So, I went through the exercise. What I came to was, that unhealed wound came from past experiences that made me feel like I wasn’t considered. “I’m not important enough to be considered. Not loved enough to be considered. I wasn’t considered then, so I’ll likely never be considered now. I don’t deserve to be considered.” This is the old, toxic (obviously) message that lingers in my subconscious. And when that wound gets ripped back open, I panic, feel vulnerable, and do all the things in earning-energy to earn my worth of being considered. And whether it’s people-pleasing or manipulation, it’s not pretty. And it’s not healthy. It ruins relationships.
We’re all born with specific human needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified the 5 basic human needs: Physiological needs, Safety needs, Love and Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization. These five basic, primal requirements make us do or not do things to get these needs satisfied. Maybe I’ll come back to each of these in another episode, but today we’re going to focus on the third of these 5 human needs, Love and Belonging. Love and Belonging refers to a human emotional need for interpersonal relationships, affiliating or being a part of something bigger than oneself, connectedness, and identifying as part of a group. And isn’t it interesting that the very thing we need, Love and Belonging, makes us act in unbecoming ways when we feel like we’re not getting love and belonging? Which then just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because we don’t get honest, real love and belonging.
David Richo is a psychotherapist and author of several well-respected books. I covered his book, Five things we cannot change: and the happiness we find by embracing them, in episodes 73 through 77. He is also the author of How to be an Adult in Relationships. Great, straight-forward title, huh? Many times, the responses we have to just about everything is emotionally driven. The emotional brain is the first part of the brain to be engaged and respond as we experience any event. The amygdala jumps in first and tries to run the show. It’s like a toddler running through the house with a pair of scissors. The adult brain needs to step in, stop the toddler, and grab the scissors. That’s what David Richo is implying just by his book title: Sometimes we don’t act like adults in our relationships. Sometimes we’re the toddler. Running with scissors. His book tells us how to be the adult and stop the toddler. He says this can be accomplished by applying the five A’s of a healthy relationship that satisfied the human need, Love and Belonging.
So, let’s pick these five A’s apart and give some practical examples. Actually, I’m probably going to have to do this in a two-part episode because there’s a lot to be said here. And you know I like to keep these episodes relatively short. Although, I apologize in advance if this one goes a little long.
Okay, so the first of the 5 A’s for a healthy relationship is Attention. We need attention. Again, is one of our basic human needs. It starts as early as infancy. The kind of attention we got when we cried (whether that was from hunger, or frustration, or just being wet and uncomfortable) quickly developed our sense of self, others, and the world. It shaped our thinking, and our sense of love and security. It shaped our behaviors. And even as adults, we need to know we’ve got the loving attention of the one we’re with. Whether that’s a romantic partner or just a friend, we need their attention to make a healthy connection. Having someone’s attention and giving attention to someone will be a practical way to assess a relationship.
When my late husband and I were in college, we loved to keep going back to the restaurant where we had our first date. Months into our relationship, we were finishing our dinner and a couple came up to our table. They said they were psychology majors and were gathering data, and could they ask us a few questions. They said, “We’ve been observing you during your time together here. How long have y’all been dating?” Okay, first that’s not creepy at all, to realize someone had been watching and analyzing your every move over the course of an hour. Right? We told them we’d been together for a year. And one of them said, “Oh, we guessed that it may have been your first date the way y’all were looking at each other and talking. Like no one else was in the room. That’s not usually the kind of behavior we see with people who have been together for a while.”
One time we were on an airplane going somewhere without three kiddos, and the flight attendant asked us how long we’d been married. At that point it was somewhere around 10 or 12 years. She said, “The way y’all flirt with each other, you’d think you were going on your honeymoon.” Score two points for us. Attention matters in a relationship.
Attention is all about being aware of yourself and others. In today’s technology age, this is getting harder and harder for us to do. We’re so easy distracted by that phone that’s beeping, or the iWatch that’s constantly notifying you of something. We’re engrossed in social media conversations or drama. Something is always vying for our attention. And interestingly enough, we feel like we have to give it our attention. Like something horrible is going to happen if we don’t look at that group message right now. Is it FOMO? Fear of missing out? Or do we actually feel like our love and belonging is at stake if we don’t jump on it right away? Attention is giving your full presence to someone, listening actively, engaging, and being genuinely interested in what the other person is saying. When you give someone your full attention, they feel valued, seen and loved. For example, imagine your partner is sharing a story about their day, and instead of just nodding along, you put down your phone, make eye contact, and ask follow-up questions. You're not just hearing words; you're actively engaging in their world. Or perhaps your friend is sharing a personal story or a challenging moment they're going through. Instead of being distracted or multitasking, you offer your full attention, showing them that what they're saying matters to you. If you’re currently not aware that looking at the messages that just came in on your iWatch as your friend is pouring out their heart to you makes them feel unimportant, unseen, and unheard, now you know.
Attention also refers to being aware of ourselves and what may be missing. It’s understanding that these are BASIC human needs; that we all need someone who will genuinely listen to our deepest feelings and needs, who validates our efforts, and who is interested in understanding our intentions, needs, and fears. We start by giving ourselves attention, paying attention to our feelings of unmet needs. If you’re noticing that you are feeling ignored, invalidated, or invisible, you can start by identifying the things you like and don’t like, what you think you need, and pay attention to what you are thinking. Giving yourself attention helps you understand who you are and what you want in life. Giving yourself attention helps you have a healthy relationship with yourself. You being to love yourself enough to require kind and loving treatment from others. You love yourself enough to put up boundaries around toxic people. You develop self-respect and begin to honor your needs. You hold yourself to high standards, valuing your own worth.
Attention is a basic, primal need. And we should love others enough to give them undivided attention, and love ourselves enough to make sure we’re getting the same. But here’s something we know to be true. Everything that we need, those five basic human needs that Maslow identified, can be satisfied in a relationship with Christ Jesus. True, getting our physiological needs met may happen outside of a personal relationship with Jesus. But not outside of a positional relationship, though. That’s because His common grace for all of mankind, providing air, water, food, sleep, shelter, is available to all of mankind. Perhaps in some places disproportionately, but their availability to us is through God’s common grace on man. Getting the other four basic needs met – Safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization – within a personal relationship with God first is what enables us to have healthy relationships with others. It’s what frees us up to love others enough to want to make them feel seen, and known, and loved, and very much important and considered.
Friend, you were created for connectedness with other human beings. You were created for connectedness with God, too. And that relationship will make all the other relationships in your life so much better and stronger. You were created for “Love and Belonging,” and healthy relationships include healthy attention. Think on these questions: What are you doing or how are you acting to get your need for attention satisfied? In your most significant relationships, are you getting the attention that you need? Are you giving others undivided attention? Are you giving yourself attention? Your level of attention in relationships will determine the health of it.
Sometimes we start out in life not getting the kind of attention that is healthy and creates safety and security for us. Then as we become adults, we are finding it difficult to ask for what we need, or even identify what it is we want. If this is you, I can help you. I’ve put a link in the show notes to book a free 30-minute call at your convenience if you’d like to chat about it.
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Have a wonderful week, friends. See you next Wednesday for Part two of the 5A’s of a Healthy Relationship here on Another Beautiful Life.
Love and Belonging are one of the five basic needs. We do all kinds of things – good and bad – to try to get that one need satisfied. Today, we’re going to look at the first of 5 A’s of a healthy relationship that cultivate Love and Belonging: Attention. Are you getting the kind of attention you need? Are you giving your undivided attention to those you love? We’ll look at why this is so important and what you can do to create healthy relationships.
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