How I made you feel

An inspirational meme actually inspired me. I recently saw this Maya Angelou quote when I was browsing Facebook and although I tend to turn to psychoanalytic papers for the production of emotional truth rather than social media, the meme hit a nerve. The gist of it was people will remember you not for your words but for how you made them feel.

Knowing how to sense the chemistry between me and another person is a recently acquired pleasure. In fact, this such a recent shift in perception that I still feel absolutely electrified by it- it is like someone has handed me a pair of paper 3-D glasses and said, hey. Try watching the film now. My experience of all of my relationships has just exploded into holographic technicolour because I know how to tune into how they make me feel and I can often feel how I make others feel. And I’ve kind of been indulging my appetite for it, training my palette, enjoying the smorgasbord on offer. There is one friend I always feel giddy around. She makes me giggle and suddenly every phrase she utters is surreal and hilarious. I love the flutters I get when I am around her, our conversations course with vitality and I welcome every one of her sentences with anticipation. Another friend who has been walking with me all over London brings out the Romantic in me and when we walk together he makes me fizz with poetry and a sense of the infinite. A different friend makes me feel so clever. I zing with intelligence when I’m with her and I wallow in her thoughtfulness. Another friend I adventure to the edge with because I feel brave around her; she emboldens me. Sometimes I can sense now when my husband is feeling affectionate towards me- recently, I caught the fondness and admiration he radiated when he looked at me as we shared a drink with friends. This sort of thing is gorgeous when it happens.

I am aware that what I’m describing is something so basic that most people take it for granted and don’t give it a second thought. I feel a little bit like I’ve just joined the party and it’s been bangin’ for quite a while without me- because it’s taken a long time to trust this sensibility. My instinct is to dismiss or second guess what I think I have read between us. I know all the reasons I experience myself as such a mutant: I experience my mother as confusing and my father as impenetrable. My mother is one of the most disorientating women I’ve ever encountered and she makes me question my perception of reality and felt experience like no one else does. My father is a perfectly smooth fortress with no cracks or footholds or places to hoist up over and into. In an essay I have just read about ‘reflective function’ by analyst Peter Fonagy, he theorises that we learn how to read other peoples feelings, and therefore our own, by understanding the moods and emotions of our carers. If those carers were confusing (as mine were) it is nearly impossible for the kid to come up with any kind of coherent schema for what the other might be feeling or thinking. I’m grateful to have arrived here. I’m in a place now where I can often read and enjoy the vibes between us; I can trust that the warmth and connection I feel really is warmth and connection, not some nightmare chimera that will shape-shift and come to devour me later. I trust that if it feels good, it probably is good. And if it feels bad I can trust that too. For someone who has placed far too much weight on words and lived in the solitary confinement unit of her own mind for far too long, it is joyful to accept that what is between us is not some fantasy in my head. That what I sense is as real as the fleeting glance I just caught, that it is as palpable as the tone of voice that just crackled with feeling.

I used to think friendship was about saying the right thing. Offering the correct words of condolence in times of hardship. I also used to think friendship was about practical support I could offer: a bit of cooking here and there, offering a sofa to sleep on after a breakup. And these are wonderful things and part of the fabric of friendship but they are not what I value receiving now in my own relationships. The thing that feeds me is connection, the state of mutuality that is pure relating. It is the quality of eye contact, the eagerness in our tone of voice, the way we lean towards one another in anticipation. It is entirely outside the realm of words and deeds- it is a place where felt experience of one another comes to the fore and words and deeds fade into the murky background. It is a lush world I have the privilege of enjoying now. And of course there are negative emotions that emerge between us: there are spikes of jealousy or a tidal wave of shame or puddle of self-loathing I suddenly find myself in when I’m with certain people or talking about certain things. This is all part of the terrain. But more often than not, I’m excited by the energy I co-create with those I love, even when it’s not always ‘positive.’ At least it is authentic and I can feel it. And the flip side of this is that I trust the vibes I give off, more and more. I trust that most people most of the time feel my own intentions towards them, that I don’t have to work super hard to communicate my warmth and openness and generosity and that I don’t need to police my words to carefully to say the exact right thing or think up thoughtful acts of kindness to show I care. I trust they too can sense what is between us, and how I make them feel. And I trust that most of the time I radiate the truth that I experience most humans pretty gorgeous. I also trust that when I catch my kids eye across the room and we smile at one another, he knows I adore him and he can feel my love in that soulful glance.

As I grow emotionally, I value those moments more and more because they are rich with meaning and affect, not just between me and my son but everyone I am close to. I trust that who I am in the world is enough to sustain a strong connection between us.

Copyright Diana Smith 2018

‘Dreams of Borderline patients,’ by Peter Fonagy explores how the capacity to reflect is impaired in some patients and can be found in ‘Dreaming and Thinking,’ published by Karnac.

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