Imagine receiving a hug from your beloved Nana — the kind that wraps you in a bubble of warmth, when words are unnecessary, and sentiments of affection seep into your bones. You feel completely seen and cherished like a lush virgin forest. This is the essence of ‘deep tender seeing.’ A gaze filled with exquisite tenderness and interest — your endorphins dance wildly, and your body feels whole, connected to your soul. You feel valued, heard, and understood.

In a world where intimate connections are rare, the ability to truly see someone is desperately wanted, and often feels life-saving — transformational.

Yet, despite its invaluable impact, many feel more invisible than ever. The result is an epidemic of aloneness that leads to meanness. Eyes grow pale from so much looking or scrolling and waiting — waiting — waiting to be seen.

Humans are hungry to be seen. Feeling invisible feels like an injustice and causes people to lash out with all the bile stored up from years of not being seen.

We can change this by taking a moment to stop and truly see. To stop and see ourselves, past our misplaced projections and stereotypes.

Since the turn of the millennium, depression rates have soared, and the statistics are disheartening:

  • Suicide rates among teenage girls have jumped by 60%.
  • Over half of Americans feel that no one truly knows them, leading to a loneliness crisis where intimate friendships are scarce.
  • The decline in romantic relationships is notable, with figures dropping by a third— a pool I swim in but I also know tender self-seeing is an immediate remedy.

These statistics were highlighted in a poignant discussion between David Brooks and Ray Suarez on the Art of Knowing a Person, and paint a stark picture of our current social landscape.

 

I feel fortunate to live close to the forest and the ocean. I can hug a tree and smell the ocean air. I can take a refreshing cold plunge or feel inspired by those who surf the waves. Connecting to nature is essential to our well-being and hers. And to be so lucky to have humans nearby who know you and want to be known by you elevates all of the senses when we let ourselves be seen.

I have three daughters in my home who love to give and receive hugs. One of my twins is quadriplegic and unable to hug but she coos with delight as I kiss her eyelids tenderly and whisper in her ears. Her twin sister with more physical ability, is especially good at tickling with emotional delight. She can sense if I’m speeding through our nighttime routine as if she is missing her coveted chocolate pudding. “I need a hug,” she’ll say as I head to the door eager to have time for me (probably to check my phone).

“I just gave you a hug,” I assure her.

“I need a real hug.” She tells me. Eyes wide open.

I return to her and melt into her tender squeeze. I wait until she initiates the letting go. On a night like this rarely do I check my phone. A crusty old habit in my body relaxes. I no longer feel the urge to seek a false sense of connection outside of myself. I am home in myself—connected and seen.

Both of us rest more deeply knowing we’ve been hugged. Our dreams are vivid. Sleep is restorative. We greet the day with fresh alertness and morning hugs.

Humans are more hungry than ever to feel seen and valued. So much so that books are being written about how to do this. Maybe you write about this as I do.

The essence of my professional work is to grow our capacity to mirror, listen, and see with genuine interest. I do my best to listen to the person in front of me and reflect back what I hear, see, and value in them beyond their words. In turn, they are empowered to meet and mend fractured parts and claim more of who they are.

On a retreat, each person is surrounded by a circle of people who witness them with compassionate curiosity. Isolation vanishes, our social nervous system regulates, we connect to neglected emotions, embody more of who we are, and elicit sparks of creativity, gifts within ourselves that we did not know existed.

Sometimes I bring the daughter I mentioned earlier on retreats with me. She currently lacks employment due to her physical disability but this does not mean she is without purpose. Perhaps due to her limited physical vision, her other senses are enhanced with extra sensitivity. She doesn’t miss a human need. She assists our team in subtle yet critical ways.

In a recent candle-lit ceremony, she told me, “Mom that man over there needs me.”

I told her, “Trust your instinct and go to him.”

She crawled across the earth floor and held his hand. Later the middle-aged man told me, “I hadn’t been able to cry in years. She came at the perfect time and gave me exactly what I needed.”

We call her our “professional hugger.”

She is indispensable for times when eyes are often glued to a screen. She is not a stranger to tenderness and the pleasure of seeing someone exactly as they are.

How do you stay with moments of intimacy and not shy away?

I am new here and would love to hear from you in the comments.

How do you help others feel seen, valued, heard, or understood?

How do you ensure a Nana hug that does not make you invisible?

How do you tend your undeniable human need for ‘deep tender seeing?’

What is an indispensable aspect of your day that recognizes your value?