When we are hurt, when we are feeling lost, when we feel
isolated and depressed, something is missing. Something
big. Something old. For some of us, it’s been missing our
The way we often describe this need is that we want to
feel seen and heard. We want to be acknowledged for who we
really are, to be held by a person who can look into our eyes
and understand us. It’s the feeling of being got, of being felt
by someone who cares about us depthlessly.
When we are lonely, we aren’t just craving company.
Loneliness has been a major theme this last year, with many
of us grappling with it more than we ever have before. We’ve
missed dinner parties, meeting friends for coffee, going to
the neighborhood hole in the wall. But loneliness isn’t about
being in a crowd. I’ve had some of my loneliest moments at
a party I’m throwing, filled with people who are supposed to be my friends. Loneliness is a call from the heart to be
seen and loved in that sacred space where you can be your whole self, with truth. Loneliness is a craving for
The word attunement is often used in the
context of attachment theory, a psychological concept that explores how we form relationships
and manage stress within them.
When a parent is attuned to a child, she is
feeling with the child, able to understand what the
child needs and able to meet those needs reason-
ably well. When the baby looks for the parent,
reaching for the parent, the parent responds.
When the child looks away, needing space, the
parent stays quiet, allowing the child to take a
break. When the child is sad or angry, the parent
acknowledges that emotion, staying calm and
compassionate while acknowledging the child’s
feelings. The parent is present, physically and
emotionally, even in the child’s worst moments.
This allows the child to feel safe. Someone is with
her, watching out for her, listening to her needs
before she’s able to name or try to explain them.
Most parents love their children deeply—more
than they’ve ever loved anyone before. But attunement is about more than the reflexiveness of
love—even unconditional love. True attunement
requires a much bigger challenge: loving with and
through all emotional states, including negative
ones. It’s easy enough to match our infants in joy:
When they are smiling and laughing, we want to smile and laugh too. But when children are irrationally afraid, crying incessantly, or throwing a tantrum, it’s much harder to hold them with the complete emotional presence that they really need in that moment. When faced with crying, frustrated, angry, or even simply annoying children, it’s easier to shut them out, ignore them, or yell at them than to meet them on their emotional level while also somehow managing to staying calm and kind.
Many of us spend our lives
seeking that person who will
tune into our wavelength and
be with us in not only our bright
moments, but also in our pain.
Attachment styles are fundamentally strategies for
managing stress. Some of us reach out for connection, to
talk our feelings out or ask for a hug to feel better—that’s
secure attachment. Some of us numb out, distract ourselves,
or try to get away so we can be by ourselves—that’s avoidant
attachment. And some people scream, yell, pick a fight, try
to take it out on someone else—that’s anxious attachment.
We learned these strategies when we were tiny—usually
less than a year old. Likely, they are the same strategies our
parents learned when they were tiny, too.
When we become adults, we tend to stick to the strategies we learned as children when our emotions become overwhelming. We may have learned that it’s unsafe to
express our deepest emotions, fearing that we’ll be met with
anger, derision, an insistence on cheering up, or a stony
silence. Instinctively, we do not feel that it is okay to be
ourselves. We do not feel that there is anyone in the world
who can really understand us.
Psychotherapist John Welwood wrote:
When we reveal ourselves to our partner and find that
this brings healing rather than harm, we make an
important discovery—that intimate relationship can
provide a sanctuary from the world of facades, a sacred
space where we can be ourselves, as we are.
Many of us spend our lives seeking that person who will
tune into our wavelength and be with us in not only our
bright moments, but also in our pain. The secret about this
journey is, of course, that the person we are looking for is a
lot closer than we may think: It’s us.