Oprah Winfrey often says that what she learned in her twenty-five years as a talk-show host is that people want the same thing — we want to be heard and understood … we want to know that we make sense to someone.
In my past life (1993-2012), one of the many professional hats I wore was as an Imago Relationship Therapist. Imago Therapists teach couples a listening skill that goes beyond active listening (repeating what you hear the other saying) to seeing the world through the other person’s eyes and telling them how they make sense given their life experience, and then walking in their shoes by telling them what you imagine they must be feeling as a result. None of this requires agreeing with how they see the world or having their feelings. It just asks us to suspend our own judgments and experiences to be in the world of the other.
And it is not easy as our polarized world attests.
For couples in troubled relationships, using that process skillfully can transform their relationship. Often, the assistance of a compassionate therapist is needed to help get and stay on track.
During the time I was an active member of the Imago community, one of the highlights I enjoyed was attending the annual conference, visiting another area of our country, and re-connecting with colleagues who had become friends.
One year, probably before 9/11, our conference was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I decided to stay an extra day, rented a car, and planned a trip to the Acoma Pueblo Sky City, located on top of a mesa about sixty miles west of Albuquerque. A colleague from Houston, Texas, Damian Duplechain, heard about my plans and asked if he could join me. I didn’t know Damian at the time, but welcomed his company.
Damian and I had a lot of time to get to know each other that day. We found we had some experiences in common beyond being Imago Relationship Therapists. We each had addiction in our family backgrounds and found twelve-step spirituality, The Spirituality of Imperfection, to be a healing force in our lives. After this trip, we went back home and had little contact after that beyond a few e-mails.
In 2009, I developed lymphoma. I was diagnosed on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, was sent directly to the urban hub of the hospital, and talked into staying the weekend. If I had to do it over, I would not have stayed the weekend, but that is another story. The word went out to the Imago community about my situation and colleagues from around the world began praying for me.
That weekend, I received a phone call from Damian. What a shock. He wanted me to know about M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He told me about a friend who had traveled a distance to be treated there. He said that if I wasn’t happy with the treatment I was getting in Dayton, OH, to give him a call and he would make all the arrangements for me to come to Houston for treatment. I doubt that you can imagine how touched I was by that. It told me even more about what an extraordinarily caring person Damian is. And it told me how fortunate I was to have so many wonderful friends extending love to me. Despite his generous offer, I didn’t find it necessary to seek treatment outside Dayton. I have been in remission since December 2009.
Eventually, I stopped participating in Imago conferences, opting to attend workshops and gatherings with my Imago friends in the Detroit, MI area. At one point, I contacted Damian about sending him a referral. But other than that, we had little contact for several years until Monday of this week.
Unbeknownst to me, Damian has been following my blog and has made a few comments. Since I didn’t receive them, I didn’t respond. He thought that was strange, checked my webpage, didn’t find his comments, and wondered if it was a cyber gremlin at work or if he had offended me in some way. He sent me an e-mail and stated that if he had offended me, he wanted to offer his deepest apology and state his willingness to hear my hurt.
I was floored. I doubt you can imagine how deeply touched I was. I find it a rare experience to have someone care that much about my feelings that they would send me an e-mail to inquire if I had been hurt and express a willingness to listen, if needed. I couldn’t have received a better gift.
My daughter who lives with me has a condition that blunts her emotions. She gets very uncomfortable when I express mine. So at home, I mostly keep them to myself. I often go for long stretches of time with no one inquiring about or listening to my feelings. And I am a feeler … on the Myer’s Briggs Personality Type Indicator, I am an
I have a rich inner life full of feelings, and I experience myself as most cared about when someone is interested in hearing me express them. To me, my feelings are the best, most authentic, part of me. Sometimes they get in the way, but they get out of the way faster when I can talk about them with some one who cares and understands … someone who is willing to stretch to see how they make sense to me.
As a single person living with someone not attuned to feelings, I often write about them in my blog. It is an exercise in vulnerability, and often after posting I wonder if I should have pressed that “publish key.” That uneasy feeling stays with me … until I get a comment.
Comments are important to me and I appreciate every one. They help me know if I am on the right track … if I make sense … if I say something of value for someone else. Sometimes they help me clarify my thoughts on a topic. I want my blog to be more than a self-centered exercise.
After assuring Damian that I didn’t get his comments, my curiosity was piqued. Actually, I found his comment in the spam folder. But I’m glad I didn’t find it until after writing this post. You will see why in a moment. I wondered, “What could he have said that might have offended me?” I wrote and asked him. Here is his response:
“My comments could be summed up as: You are a wise woman who makes total sense to me, and I appreciate your blog and you because they are both wonderful gifts to me and to the world. Keep up the great work.”
WOW!! I think I’ll keep writing. 🙂