The clinicians at Progress Counseling work with a wide variety of clients — in reference to the point of this post, “acceptance” is interchangeable with the feeling of connection, being wanted, belonging. For the clients who have decided to share their healing journey with us, the flavor or form of the healing can mean resolving anxiety (sometimes social anxiety), trauma (which is necessarily a relational or social symptom), depression (which has clear social implications). In order to try and capture one common, universal layer of the healing process, I will try to articulate the move from “this” to “the healing.” “This” is the starting point, and “the healing” is fundamentally a safe connection, a healing space (internal and external), it’s when the gaze of a compassionate other looks upon the hurt, the wounds, the experiences of disconnect, rejection, the failures and … that’s the healing process.
In other words, the healing process often runs through the intrapersonal (our internal relationships, self to self) as well as the interpersonal (our self with others). For addiction recovery, mental health symptom management, for really any kind of healthy practice development, we need our selves to be internally healthy and then to engage in a larger, robust support system.
And how do we know when that’s happening? For people who are anxious, depressed, traumatized, the assumptions about other people often run negative. The healing work can sometimes run through evidence building, or reality testing — maybe, just maybe, there are some other people that want to be around you? Maybe you are more accepted, connected, known, maybe you belong as much as any other person … These concepts are far fetched, and often times one’s nervous system will flinch, clench, fight against going along with a positive notion like “People can be trusted,” “I can keep myself safe in a social situation,” “I am good enough,” “I am worthy of love.” The healing of the interpersonal connections, parallel with the intrapersonal relationship, is very difficult.
There are some signs that progress is being made. The counseling office experience, when it is flowing into “real life” (e.g. outside of the therapeutic space), means that relationships are developing, healing, forming. Even then, there may be some internal doubts, lingering concerns. This can sound like “I found a new DnD group, but I keep thinking, do these people really want me around?” or something like, “I joined a community group, I notice the group hangs out outside of the regular meetings. They’ve invited me, but I don’t trust it, like I figure they’re doing it just to be nice.” The healing process can mean, taking some (social) risks, possibly getting hurt again, and trusting one’s internal / external resources to be able to make (social) mistakes, and keep going. (‘social’ risks and mistakes here are interchangeable with emotional, financial, relational, etc). That said, it’s helpful to have some positive frame of reference — what does it look like for a person who is recovery from feeling depressed, anxious, traumatized, and what are some signs to look for in others when the healing is happening?
- Initiation: When someone consistently takes the initiative to initiate conversations, make plans, or suggest activities, it’s a strong sign that they want to be around you. They actively seek out opportunities to engage with you and spend time together. Whether it’s reaching out via text, inviting you to events, or simply suggesting a coffee catch-up, their consistent initiation demonstrates their interest in your company.
- Active engagement: A person who genuinely wants to be around you will actively engage in conversations and activities. They will show genuine interest in what you have to say, actively listen, and ask follow-up questions. They contribute to the conversation with their own thoughts and opinions, creating an engaging and dynamic interaction. Their active engagement indicates that they value your presence and enjoy the exchange of ideas and experiences with you.
- Body language: Pay attention to their body language when you’re together. Positive body language signals that they are comfortable and want to be around you. They may maintain eye contact, smile genuinely, lean towards you during conversations, or mirror your gestures and expressions. Open and welcoming body language, such as uncrossed arms and relaxed posture, suggests that they feel at ease in your presence and enjoy being around you.
- Shared personal information: When someone feels comfortable sharing personal experiences, thoughts, or feelings with you, it’s a strong indicator that they want to be around you. Sharing personal information signifies a level of trust and intimacy in the relationship. They feel safe opening up to you, knowing that you will listen and support them. This level of vulnerability and openness demonstrates their desire to connect with you on a deeper level.
- Availability: If someone consistently makes themselves available for you, it shows that they prioritize spending time with you. They may adjust their schedule, rearrange commitments, or make an effort to create opportunities for you to be together. Their availability indicates that they value your presence and actively make room for you in their life.
- Support and encouragement: A person who wants to be around you will provide consistent support and encouragement. They genuinely care about your well-being and are invested in your success and happiness. They offer words of encouragement, lend a listening ear when you need to vent, and celebrate your achievements. Their supportive nature demonstrates that they want to be a positive presence in your life.
- Physical touch: Occasional physical touch can be a sign that someone feels comfortable and close to you. This could include friendly hugs, playful nudges, or holding hands. Physical touch is often an expression of warmth, affection, and a desire for closeness. It signifies a level of comfort and trust in the relationship.
- Sharing experiences: If someone consistently includes you in their life experiences by inviting you to events, gatherings, or outings, it indicates that they enjoy your presence and want to share meaningful moments with you. They want to create shared memories and value your participation in their life.
- Genuine laughter: Laughter is a powerful indicator of enjoyment and connection. If someone genuinely laughs and finds joy in your presence, it suggests that they genuinely want to be around you. They appreciate your sense of humor, find your company enjoyable, and look forward to spending time with you.
- Consistency in communication: Regular and consistent communication is a sign that someone wants to maintain a connection with you. They make an effort to keep in touch, whether through texts, calls, or social media. Consistent communication demonstrates that they value your relationship and want to stay connected even when you’re not physically together.
Remember that these signs are not definitive proof of someone’s intentions, as people’s behavior can vary. It’s important to consider the overall context, patterns of behavior, and other cues to gain a comprehensive understanding of someone’s desire to be around you. Be mindful of your reactions to this list. People with significant symptoms around social anxiety, for example, may experience some version of each of these and still find a part of their brain discounting all of the positive evidenced of connectedness, acceptance. In working with clients who have a depression hanging over them, the response may be, “Yeah but…” As in, those experiences can happen, and the opposite is still true (“I can make people laugh, but that doesn’t mean I’m worthy of love or connection”).
The sensed reaction to being with people, even imagining being in some ‘out there’ social milieu can reveal a gap in one’s healing experience — maybe part of your healing practice is developing a support structure that provides the positive experience of love, laughter, consistent communication, attentiveness, availability.
Do counselors help people make friends? Sort of. By cultivating a cognitive, somatic, emotional sense of “safety,” a person will more effectively relate — you will know when a person is “safe,” when they’re tuned in, attentive, when they care, because you will have an embodied and known experience of it. When someone knows what “real safety” feels like, that person is going to want, demand more of the real thing (and they’ll know what an imitation feels like).
Do you want to know more? We have therapists whose training centers around healing — we say, “safety is the healing; healing is the safety.” Sometimes we get it backwards, forwards, or some other creative way: safety = healing = safety = healing, and so on. Reach out, we have clinicians who would love to talk to you about your healing journey, and how we can walk alongside you in that process.