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  • Writer's pictureEleni Paris


It is often said that if you take the "I" out of illness and add "we," you end up with wellness. The "we" is critical for this bridge to better health, as it signifies the necessity of a significant other, our loved ones, and our community being alongside us as we navigate the ebbs and flows of our lives.

However, this "we" is more than a physical being next to us. We can be surrounded by many beings and still feel alone and lonely. Why? How can we feel lonely when we have a family at home? When our significant other is sitting next to us? When we go to work surrounded by many people?

What does emotional presence look like?

This is where emotional presence enters the picture, transforming one's loneliness into fulfillment, connectedness, and peace. What does it mean, and what does it look like within our various relationships? Because it is felt so personally and deeply between two people, I will list ten statements and examples of what it might look and feel like, respecting that this may be defined differently for you.

Emotional presence, whether verbally expressed or not, conveys:

  • I want to understand you

  • I want to support you.

  • I want to accept you.

  • I want to listen to you deeply.

  • I want to hold your hand without saying a word.

  • I want to express my sincere interest in your feelings.

  • I want to help you.

  • I want to wipe away your tears.

  • I want to be 'shoulder to shoulder' with you on all you're enduring.

  • I want to be your cheerleader.

Did you notice the words "I want" begin each statement? There is a sincere desire to emotionally support the other without an agreement, agenda, or solution. It will look different with an infant, a toddler, a school-aged child, a teenager, a spouse, an aging parent, and a coworker. But the message is still the same for the giver, and the feeling is still the same for the receiver. Implementing emotional presence when needed creates the connection, peace, and security we long for in our relationships.

Did you notice anything at the end of each statement? It ends with a PERIOD. No solutions are offered. No rebuttals. No opinions. "I want to be emotionally present for you." That's it.

Of course, in certain situations, solutions to a problem are warranted. However, people need to realize that sometimes the answer IS that moment of just being, listening, and supporting. Brainstorming for new ideas, offering your opinions, and finding solutions may interfere with what your loved one genuinely seeks, which is 100% YOU and your undivided attention.

The crux of relationship therapy work, whether it's a couple, mother/daughter, father/son, couple/parents (or in-laws), often involves working toward the experience of emotional presence. Examples of emotional presence within a therapy session may include playing with young children (respectfully entering their world and showing a sincere interest in what they have to say or "play out"); a parent and child playing a game (with the therapist) where they share feelings in creative ways; a teenager having the space to express all he/she is going through without feeling judged or without expectation; couples practicing communication techniques, where they listen deeply, reflect what they hear their partners say, and empathizing with them by adding "and you must feel _________,or that must have made you feel ________."

What does emotional presence feel like?

Emotional presence may just be sitting next to someone quietly while they share or holding one another without saying a word.

The song "When You Say Nothing at All" by Alison Krauss comes to mind:

"The smile on your face makes me know you that need me,

There's a truth in your eyes saying you'd never leave me,

The touch of your hand says catch me if ever I fall,

You say it best, when you say nothing at all."

Another line from Alison Krauss' song that summarizes this well:

"Without saying a word, you can light up the dark."

If you ever wonder what might be needed during an emotionally challenging moment for your child, or for your spouse, or for your employee/colleague...the solution may simply lie in your sincere attentiveness and emotional presence conveying support and care....

and perhaps, without saying a word.

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