Many of us struggle with intimacy. Learning this simple skill is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and those we love. This technique is designed to deepen all of your intimate relationships, including your relationship with yourself. Each of its three steps leads to greater authenticity and victory over the inner and outer voices which hold us back from deeper love. (Its acronym, "AHA" can help you remember each step.)
Step 1: Authenticity
In this step, notice what you’re feeling and then just appreciate and experience the humanityof your feelings—whatever they are—without trying to fix or correct them.
If you can sense a feeling inside, find a few words that capture it. It may take a while for the words to form—just allow that time. The feeling might express itself as the memory of a piece of art or music, or as an image or color. Find the expression which captures your experience. Just by doing this, you will have already created a degree of compassion for yourself, and will be able to find your way into the deeper meaning of whatever you are experiencing.
This first stage might feel awkward or uncomfortable. You might think, “No, I don’t want to do this now. It’s too uncomfortable.” Or, “I don’t have time.” Or, “It’s too much work.” Expect a bit of inner resistance trying to keep you from the challenge ahead. Every time you persevere to make room for the humanity of your feelings, it’s an tiny act of personal greatness, and a step toward richer self-understanding.
After years of hard work, Sharon landed her dream job—a high-level position in a prestigious accounting firm. Now that she had reached her goal, however, she found that she was losing her ambition, coming in late, and making errors she never should have made. She was furious at herself and completely bewildered. She tried the AHA process, and began by allowing her feelings instead of judging them. In so doing, she realized that she had been consistently unhappy in her job, but had never allowed herself to accept that reality. Her work environment was hostile and competitive, a complete change from her last job, and it depressed her. Until now, she hadn't let herself face how bad it really was.
Step 2: Honoring
This is the step we are most likely to overlook. Few of us have been taught to do it, but it is the antidote to our bewilderment and the path to our own unique genius.
How do we become capable of honoring our authentic experience, especially when we feel judgmental toward, or ashamed of, what we are feeling? We must validate the worth of our feelings, even if that feeling seems irrational, counterproductive or awkward. When we believe we shouldn’t feel the way we do, our first reaction is usually a reflexive act of self-correction which can leave us cringing against our own self-critique.
Here are three questions which will help you learn to validate your own emotional experience. Try each one on until you feel an inner “Yes!” When you do, take time to feel the relief that accompanies it.
- It makes sense that I feel this way because . . .
- These feelings are connected to my deeper self in this way: . . .
- This conflict touches a very important value of mine because . . .
This act of self-honoring may be challenging, but it’s the most comforting path of all. It enables us to express our deepest innate gifts and allows us to relinquish the whip we hold against ourselves. Honoring requires kindness; anything other than honoring is like a quiet act of violence against ourselves. None of us can dishonor our inner self without repercussions.
If the conflict you are experiencing is with someone else, follow this step in your own mind for the other person. You may only be able to guess his or her feelings or motivation, but the practice of honoring the other person’s experience often creates real breakthroughs in our understanding.
Sharon was troubled by her realization. She had worked hard to achieve her professional goals, and now she questioned whether she was actually cut out for the job she had so desired. By navigating the above questions, she realized something very important, which she had never admitted to herself: She was profoundly sensitive to her social environment. She was happier and significantly more productive when she was in a positive environment. In a negative social environment, she became prone to depression, and self-sabotage. She had always seen this as a weakness and tried to fight her sensitivity, but it had never worked. She felt challenged by this insight, but relieved at understanding herself in a deeper way.
Step 3: Action
In this stage, hold your inner self (or that of the other person, if applicable) with honor, then act in whatever way feels wise, true and helpful. This step can be very hard. “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes,". This may be the scariest step, but if you have already taken the preceding steps, you’ll have created an inner push support yourself.
In taking authentic action, our ability to find and follow love is increased, and our authentic self becomes more fully formed. We feel vulnerable, yet essentially worthy. Without this capacity to honor ourselves and take action on our feelings, our unconscious mind will protect us from real love. It protects us because it knows that we would either harm others with our anger or ourselves by succumbing to others' needs and demands.
Conversely, when we know how to honor ourselves, our unconscious will open our deepest gifts because it finally trusts us. Every time we practice this process, the part of us which can love is strengthened. The more we do this process, the richer our lives will become.
Sharon was a bit stunned by her realization. She decided to see if she could improve her experience on the job, but also to start exploring other job possibilities. Instead of fighting against her innate sensitivity, she now felt a desire to honor it. She realized that her sensitivity to social environments applied to all of her relationships, and that she sabotaged herself every time she tried to suppress or dishonor that sensitivity. She began to see her need for positive environments as a gift instead of a weakness, which was a new and exciting way to look at her life—and her future.
One of the most powerful ways to create closeness in a romantic—or any—relationship, is to practice this technique. One of the greatest aphrodisiacs is the feeling that you and your partner celebrate each others’ gifts and hold each others’ wounds with compassion. Practicing these steps with a loved one deepens the bond between you, and your own capacity for love. Try this technique and you will find that your compassion for yourself and others increases in surprising and wonderful ways.