“I see you.”
That is one of the many profound concepts in one of my favorite movies, Avatar. “I see you.” For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, “I see you,” is the greeting of the Na’Vi, which expresses a sense of being aware of being seen by another.* Whoa. To be seen by another person. To feel being seen. This is the foundation of emotional attunement. Emotional attunement includes feeling seen, heard, understood, and valued by another. We are born searching for this connection. In our most vulnerable state as infants, we look to our parents to see and understand us and be receptive to our needs. To be completely and lovingly present. Many of us can remember feeling this at one point or another. Feeling attuned with another person has a wonderfully calming effect. We might breathe more easily and more slowly. Our heart rate might slow. We can rest in the moment. We can rest into another person.
Very sadly, this is often a difficult state for us to achieve or maintain. Our parents had their own struggles that made them less available to varying degrees. We can look around and see the best- intentioned parents be at times invalidating, preoccupied, and task-oriented instead of open, curious, and receptive to their children’s emotions and needs. This is not due to a lack of love for their children but often a lack of time, energy, or emotional resources. As you know, our quest to be attuned–to be seen–continues into adulthood. We search for this kind of connection with our friends and significant others (and often still our parents). It feels extraordinary when we feel attuned with another and can feel devastating and lonely when we don’t.
Let’s take a moment for self-reflection. How often do you feel emotionally attuned with your loved ones? When do you take a moment to put away your phone or tablet and sit and look directly into your loved one’s eyes and be with him or her? Listen to and hear her? See her? And accept and love her? And respond to her as she is in that moment. I wonder…if we do this for our loved ones, would it create more space–a pause–for our loved ones to do the same? When Jake and Neytiri express “I see you,” they are gazing at one another. They are seeing to be seen. Maybe today we can find even a brief moment to do the same? Who might you choose to see?
*This is one among various interpretations of Avatar’s “I see you.” Please feel free to watch the movie and find your own or do an online search for others.
Kelsey Schraufnagel, PsyD
Dr. Schraufnagel is a psychologist with a special interest in teaching people who to deal more effectively with anxiety and depression, and how mindfulness meditation practices can be integrated into effective psychotherapy. She writes occasional posts for this blog.