David Augburger is a pastoral counselor who is credited with the quote, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable”. We often hear a request for this connection expressed in the American vernacular as, “Can I get a witness?”. Sometimes pastors implore their flocks to confirm understanding by asking for an ‘Amen’, or some other request for a callback response, letting the speaker know the message was received. And, anyone who has parented, taught or coached has likely been on the receiving end of angry tears and screams of: “You don’t understand!!” and “You never listen!”.
We call witnesses to court, have witnesses at weddings and bear witness in so many other ways. People even pay professionals to help them sort out their conflicts and issues with therapists, mediators and lawyers, and often, being heard came to supersede the initial problem.
One of the factors leading to much of the success of 12-steps programs is that people feel seen, heard, and understood among peers who share their struggles. Humans are constantly looking for confirmation, corroboration, evidence, testament, proof or validation of their sense of self and place in community or society.
Yet, while we all seem to be looking for a witness, many struggle to be a witness to others. Matt Kahn said, “Despite how open, peaceful, and loving you attempt to be, people can only meet you, as deeply as they’ve met themselves.” We have all been on the receiving end of lack of understanding or support and felt unheard, just as we ourselves have failed to meet others at times.
As parents, partners, teachers, friends and lovers we want to show up, we mean to, and we still fall short. So how can we be the witness in our own community? First we must be able to meet ourselves more fully.
Through tension and trauma we become disconnected to our own sense of self. We shut off access to our knowing and feeling in order not to experience that which has become unbearable. Sometimes this occurs through chronic or extreme physical pain. But, even more of us can relate to the unbearable emotional and spiritual pain caused by loss through divorce, death, rejection, loneliness or isolation.
This disconnect doesn’t occur in our cognitive minds but rather in our physical bodies first (which then informs the brain). TRE* works in the body gently turning on our own innate ability to heal, release, repair and reprogram the nervous system. The tension, contraction and inflammation accumulated, whether from sitting in traffic or experiencing an emotional trauma, once held tightly in our bodies begins to find its way out. Over time we begin to see and experience our lives from a much clearer space. It is here that we show up more fully to ourselves and then for our community. In healing and caring for ourselves we become better able to bear witness to those who love and count on us.
It is social engagement where we first turn for comfort and care in stressful times. It is here that we seek witness to our lived experiences. And it is here where we can offer to others the gift of the “Witness Protection Plan”.
The ‘Witness Protection Plan’ doesn’t just make us feel better temporarily either! The more we feel connected and engaged in our communities, families, and villages better health outcomes are consistently reported. Managing and healing our stress and tension HELPS OUR FAMILIES be healthier as we are better able to support them as we show up to pay witness to their lived lives.
*Tension Release Exercizes