On my 31st birthday my mum gave me an electric hand whisk. I threw a very childish, and looking back, completely unreasonable hissy fit! It took me a fair few years to fully understand why this hit such a hot spot for me, but now, thanks to new insight, I know!
Funnily enough I did actually need an electric hand whisk, which my mum had very thoughtfully noticed, but it was the last thing I wanted as a gift, especially from my mum, the person in the world who is meant to know me and understand me better than anyone!
It confused me. How could I have such a strong reaction to someone I love and I know loves me very much. I used to think the declaration of love was a deep enough expression of what someone means to you, but now I know and understand this in a bit more depth.
I am lucky enough to feel loved by quite a few people. I know they love me because they think of me, they remember me, they care about what’s going on for me, some of them even tell me. But, there is a level of human connection that forms an even deeper attachment to another human being than love, and that is a feeling of being completely and utterly known.
I think most of us know this on some level but it’s only recently and thanks to studying the work of a developmental psychologist called Dr Gordon Neufeld, that I now have the language to be able to understand and articulate why being ‘completely known’ is more important to me than just knowing I am loved.
Dr Neufeld has written extensively on the subject of attachment. He likens the roots of attachment to the roots of a tree or plant, with the shoots and branches of healthy maturation being dependent upon strong roots of attachment. I won’t go into lots of detail here about all the shoots and roots, but when I first saw the diagram he created I was surprised to see that ‘being known’ was the deepest root, deeper than ‘love’. The more he explained and the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense.
To ‘know’ someone at the deepest level is to anticipate them, to accept them completely and utterly, faults and all, to compensate for them, to know what they need and when they need it, to know when to back off, when to come close, when not to take no for an answer. To feel ‘known’ gives you comfort and security in the most vulnerable situations, it provides you with a safe haven and a place of emotional rest. This sounds like a very special love and I guess that’s the point.
Hopefully most of us know this and do this instinctively for those who’s healthy development relies on their relationship with us, as well as those others who we are particularly attached to. But, if you are anything like me, it’s easy to forget how important this stuff is. Life rushes on and we make decisions each and every day in what we do, what we don’t do, what we say, what we don’t say. How often do we miss opportunities to show those people closest to us that they are truly ‘known’?
My youngest child is very forgetful, he doesn’t do it on purpose, he’s just made this way. He is always leaving his swimming kit either at the pool or on the bus when he goes to school swimming. I’ve stopped getting angry, I started just mopping up behind him. A couple of weeks ago after I had found his kit, again! he said to me, “really mum, I don’t know what I would do without you”. After picking myself up off the floor, I almost felt our relationship deepen on the spot. For the last two weeks he has remembered his kit. I realised that showing him that ‘I know him’, and that I love him for who he is helped him mature and grow up more effectively than any punishment or incentive ever would.
So, what about my poor mum, berated for being so thoughtless. We’ve since laughed, put it all to rights and now the electric whisk is practically iconic! I only hope my kids are as forgiving as she was!