What's the Greatest Gift for Someone You Love? - Counseling & Therapy Services - The Juniper Center
Dr Margo Jacquot on Love

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Do you know what the greatest gift is that we can give the people we love?

It may not be what you think.

During Valentine’s “week”, I hear people talking about where they will go for dinner. Or they are lamenting COVID and choosing not to partake in their usual pre-fixe celebration out. Can you compensate with jewelry? Candy? Flowers? I hope somebody gets the roses they want on Monday, and you can never go wrong with chocolate in my book, but here is the truth:

The number one thing that people want from the people they love is to be understood and accepted for who they are.

And that’s where, oftentimes, a relationship can go awry, be it romantic, parents and children, siblings, or anyone with whom you are close. We yearn to be heard and seen for who we are, as we see ourselves.

So how is it that we also want other people to act in a certain way, to be who WE want them to be? “I want you to respond and talk to me the way I want you to talk to me,” we think. “I want you to be able to read my mind and KNOW what’s important to me!”

That’s the paradox. In our own desire to be understood, we may forget to let the people around us be themselves. However, when you can sit back and let the other person tell you who they really are, and you can listen and show up for that, that’s where positive change happens.

It’s not just a feeling, it’s neurobiological.

I love brain science. So here it is: A study from 2014 started with the premise that feeling understood enhances both personal and social well-being. The researchers went on to do magnetic resonance imaging to see how the brain physiologically responded to feeling understood.

And, you guessed it, the results demonstrated that feeling understood activated neural regions associated with reward and social connection. Not feeling understood activated parts of the brain associated with negative affect. (Morelli et al, 2014) It’s not just our heart. Our brain likes feeling seen.

How can you make the other person feel heard and understood?

Going back to the Valentine’s Day chocolates, as an analogy, if you like caramels and they like creams…give the box of creams! Recognize the other person from their perspective. Ask questions. Paraphrase and repeat back to affirm that you understand. Validate feelings and ask before offering advice or sharing how you would behave if it were you.
That’s the greatest gift we can give anyone around Valentine’s Day, or any day.
Happy February!

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