Have you ever noticed how those situations in our lives that have the most “charge” for us, particularly in our relationships with our partners, children or other family members, are the most challenging ones to change?
I’d like to share with you an example from my life. I used to have a lot of charge around wanting my husband to listen empathically to me. I was so longing to be heard and deeply understood by him, and through his listening, to receive his love, care and unconditional acceptance. But it wasn’t just something I would have liked, that would have been “nice”, it was something I felt an almost desperate need for.
This kind of listening wasn’t something that came naturally to my husband. And the more he wasn’t able to offer it to me, the more tense I became about being heard by him! I would expect him to drop everything and listen to me at any moment I needed it. And I didn’t just want him to listen, I needed him to listen to me “in the right way”! And when he didn’t or couldn’t, I would get very upset and angry, and sometimes even criticise him!
As you can imagine, all the charge around me wanting to be heard by my husband didn’t help me to get my needs met at all! In fact, it led to a lot of conflict and disconnection between my husband and I. Each time I approached him wanting to be heard, he felt scared that I might get angry if he wasn’t able to listen to me in the right way. At times, he didn’t even feel safe to try to listen to me. And I started to think that maybe he just couldn’t listen to me, that he wasn’t capable of it, and that was a very scary thought for me indeed.
Once I started to realise all this, I wanted to do something about it. In fact, I have found that a sense of true power and freedom comes from taking responsibility for my own part in these things!
So, I took the opportunity to talk about it with some empathic listeners. I talked and cried about how it felt when my husband was unable to listen to me in the way I was wanting. I also talked and cried about what it reminded me of, experiences I’d had as a child of not being heard in the way I would have liked, despite my parents doing the best they knew how to, and how much these experiences left me longing to feel deeply heard and understood. All of this helped me to release the painful feelings surrounding this situation from my body.
And I found other strategies to meet my needs to be heard and understood on a more general basis, by finding friends, listening partners and a mentor who were able to listen to me in the way I was longing for. With my needs to be deeply heard and understood being met by other people, this took the pressure of my needing it from my husband. I also learned some processes to listen to my own deeper feelings and understand and accept myself, including Marion Rose’s Inner Loving Presence Process.
All this lessened the charge around needing my husband to listen empathically to me. It wasn’t that I let go of my desire to be deeply heard and understood by him; it was that I wasn’t needing it quite so desperately!
Nowadays, things are (mostly) different. I am much more judicious in asking my husband to listen to me. If I ask him to listen and he can’t in that moment, I am generally accepting of that. I can usually wait for a time when he is willing and able to listen. And if not, I have a back up plan, either asking a listening partner to offer me listening and empathy, or meeting this need for myself using the processes I’ve learned. I’m also not so attached to my husband listening to me in exactly the “right way”; I know he is doing his best and am able to ask more gently if I am needing something different.
And, as a result, my husband is feeling so much safer and more relaxed around listening to me! By lessening my own charge around needing to be heard, I opened up the space and created more favourable conditions for my husband to hear me in the way I am wanting.
This morning my husband and I shared a joke with each other. I approached him and sat next to him on the sofa. He saw my face. He swears that one of my eyebrows raises when I have feelings bubbling. He playfully exaggerated what he was feeling in that moment, saying, “I’m scared! I’m very scared!”. We both had a laugh. Now that the charge has lessened around me needing him to hear me, we can laugh about how it used to be, and this continues to help us to release any residual tension around this situation and remain connected.
What causes a situation to have charge? We can have charge around any situation, from wanting our child to unpack the dishwasher, to wanting our husband to show us more affection. Charge comes from the feelings that the current situation brings up in us. But these are often strongly linked to feelings we had about a somehow similar situation from a lot earlier in our lives, that we never had the opportunity to release and have heard with empathy. Often the emotions that a charged situation triggers are painful and multilayered. Charge can also be heightened when a situation feels like a threat to one or more of our current needs being met.
How does charge affect us? The tense energy around these situations can leave us feeling like we need things to happen in a certain way, often quite urgently. And if they don’t happen in that way, we might have a big emotional reaction. Charge makes it difficult for us to approach the situation in a relaxed, light and flexible way; a way that is more likely to be effective in inspiring something different from the other person. Instead, we might approach the situation in a tight, heavy or rigid way, and our significant others can pick up on this energy. We might be unable to consider other people’s needs in the situation, and come across as demanding or desperate. As a result, the situation often becomes saturated with fear and quite stuck.
How can we lessen the charge? We can have someone listen with empathy and compassion as we talk and offload our feelings about the situation. We might talk about our feelings about the situation as it is right now, or we might talk about feelings from past situations that this current situation reminds us of. The more we can release our feelings, the lighter and more flexible we are likely to feel around the situation. For a longstanding issue, it may take several sessions of talking, crying, raging and being heard to appreciably lessen the charge.
We can also identify which, if any, of our current needs feel threatened by the situation and find other ways to meet these needs. This involves taking responsibility for meeting our own needs and creatively seeking other ways to satisfy them. By having other ways of meeting our genuine needs, there will likely be less charge around having someone or something specific to meet those needs. And the less stress, tension and even desperation we feel about having our needs met by someone or something specific, the more space there is likely to be for things to shift in the direction we are desiring.
Image courtesy of Jeff Hire / Freepik.