Shared Heart Column, New Dimensions of Relationship, July 2012
with Joyce and Barry Vissell
Everyone has unique words they need to hear. These words are like a magic sound to their ears, for they have perhaps longed to hear them all of their lives. The important thing in our relationships is to find out what our loved ones most need to hear, and then give these messages as often as possible.
When I was a child I longed to hear the words, “Your sensitivity and emotions are beautiful.” My parents were both very loving people and wanted me very much. The pregnancy before my birth resulted in the death of two premature twin boys. My parents thought that they would never have another child, and it had always been a deep desire to have a girl, as they already had my brother. They were delighted when I was born, and named me Joyce to show how much joy they felt that I was with them. As a little child, my father played with me a lot and always put me to sleep with stories. As I grew, his way of showing me love was to help me to excel in school, so that I could go on to college and have a career that was satisfying to me. He gave me one dollar for every “A” that I got, which was actually a lot of money back then. Whenever I needed help with my homework he dropped whatever he was doing and helped me. I knew that he loved me. And yet the words I needed to hear never came from him.
I needed to hear that he valued my sensitive and emotional nature. Instead, my sensitivity was something to be overcome. I remember my father often saying to me, “You have to get over feeling so much and crying. The world is going to be hard for you if you don’t.” I trust my father was trying to give me the very best guidance that he knew, and he gave it with a lot of love. He saw the tears as a sign of weakness and wanted me to be a strong capable female. My mother had a similar reaction whenever I cried. I took to hiding my tears and emotions and would go off in private.
When I grew into my twenties and lived far from my parents, I struggled with my emotions. I felt that I was handicapped, as much as someone who was blind or deaf. Why was I cursed with feeling so much? Why did some energies and words seem to enter into me like a poison, when they barely had an effect on others? Why did I have to feel in my body when others were sad? Why did I have to feel the energies in a room still left from something that might have happened in the past? Why did I feel someone’s anger toward me, when they were unaware of it themselves?
It took the entire period of my twenties to realize that my emotions and sensitivity were indeed a blessing rather than a curse. I needed and still need Barry to say to me, “Your emotions and sensitivity are beautiful and that is what I love about you the most.” Whenever Barry says those words it is like the most healing tonic for my heart.
Barry also has healing words that he needs to hear. His childhood included a fair amount of violence. He needs me to say, “I will never hit you.” Now there is no reason that Barry should be afraid of that in me, for I have never hit him nor do I ever intend to. But he needs to hear those words and they have a healing effect on him.
We know a woman whose father abandoned her family when she was seven years old. She can still feel the pain of the day her father came to her, hugged her, and told her he was going away. He left her and her sister and mother. She never saw him again, though she heard that he had started a new family. This woman is now married with her own children. The healing words that she needs to hear from her husband are, “I will never leave you.”
Usually the words you need to hear come from pain or trauma in your childhood. But they can also come from a current situation. In the last year of my mother’s life, she was totally dependent on us. We tried to continue her life as it had been, only now we took her to her church, the grocery store and for her walks on the beach in her wheelchair. I stopped certain parts of my work so that I could be more available to help my mother, as there was much to do. One day, I took my mother to the grocery store and, as we were checking out, she recognized the young woman who was bagging the groceries. She started going on and on about how much this woman had helped her by taking her cart to the car. She praised this woman and called her an angel, thanking her over and over again.
I got my mother into the car and, as we were driving home in silence, I was aware of feeling hurt. I was perhaps doing a thousand more things for my mother than that woman, and yet she never thanked me. I stewed about this for the rest of the day and tried to let it go. I felt it was so inappropriate of me to feel hurt by my wonderful mother when she was so helpless and would not be able to live much longer.
The next morning, as I was caring for her, I took a risk and shared my feelings. “How come you praised that young woman for doing such a little bit for you, which is actually her job, and I do so much for you and you hardly seem to notice?” My mother looked at me and started to cry, “I am so grateful every minute of the day for all you are doing for me, allowing me to stay in my home and not putting me in a nursing home. I guess I just assumed that you knew I was grateful. I see now that I need to let you know.”
For the rest of my mother’s life she expressed her gratitude to me, as well as to Barry and our three children – and anyone else who came to visit her. She was happier in expressing this gratitude and we were all much happier to be acknowledged for the love and care that we were giving. I am so grateful that I took the risk to share my feelings and ask for the words that I needed to hear. It made all the difference for both of us.
What are the healing words that you need to hear? Take the risk to share this with important people in your life, as well as find out their healing words. It has the potential to change your relationship as well bring great healing into your life.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and their new book, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.