“We need to feel seen and affirmed—it creates a sense of security,” Gayle said, as I sat across from her trying to figure out how to help my brain to stop kicking off stress hormones. 

With the sudden passing of my beloved father-in-law, my wife, who has been a solid rock in my life, is struggling to get her footing. With the changes and challenges life has tossed our way, both of us are struggling.   

Creating A Sense Of Safety 

“What causes us to feel a sense of safety?” I asked Gayle. 

“Do you remember the movie Cast Away, Misti?” Gayle asked. 

Nodding my head, she continued, “Do you remember the volleyball?” 

“Who doesn’t? Willlllson….” I chuckled, acting out the scene when he loses the ball in the middle of rough and dangerous waters. 

Willlllllsssssoooonnnn,” I repeated, remembering the hilariousness of that scene. 

“Wilson made him feel real,” Gayle said, leaving the humor of that scene for another time, “which is how he survived. We need to feel seen,” she repeated, reminding me of the reason my brain struggles so much with anxiety—I didn’t feel seen and affirmed from infancy. 

Feeling Seen And Affirmed Are Key To Safety 

As it turns out, many of us don’t feel seen or affirmed, which is why so many of us struggle with anxiety and depression—making it nearly impossible to relax and trust. 

Add a pandemic, and all that has come since March 2020— 

Social isolation,
Health challenges,
Loss of jobs,
Addressing racism, and

—And we end up with a massive opportunity… in leadership, at home, and in our communities. 

Yes, a massive opportunity—to see and affirm those around us. But, what exactly does that mean? 

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo describes this process simply with— 

I see you.
“I am here!” 

Nepo goes on to describe the traditions of the African Bushmen, who for centuries greeted each other in this way. When one bushman became aware of another, he would exclaim, “I see you!” The one approaching would reply with, “I am here!” 

Safety Is Key For Engagement 

The people in our lives who see and affirm our personhood are the ones who help to build our sense of self, our self-esteem, and thus our sense of safety, which is core and paramount to sharing our ideas, taking on added responsibility, and delivering our best work. 

We need to feel seen and affirmed, and the good news is that anyone can start doing it immediately. It’s not complicated. It’s actually quite simple. 

It’s so simple, yet very, very few people do it. I believe that’s mostly because they don’t know how, and they don’t yet know the power of it either. If they did, they would invest in it. At the very least, they would try it for a month and see what happens. 

Distractions Decrease Our Ability To See And Affirm 

The challenge is that it can feel awkward because most people don’t do it modern day society. They don’t do it because they’re too distracted with busy-ness, fears, and trying to get somewhere… to be someone of importance. 

As a result of all the trying to get somewhere, they’re rarely here. Present, that is. 

We have to be present to see and affirm others. Someone who sees and affirms others helps them to feel safe, and thus present. When we practice seeing and affirming others, we do our part (as a leader, friend, colleague, sister, mother, or even a therapist—thank you, Gayle) to help people to feel safe enough to show up fully in their lives. 

Simple Practices For Seeing And Affirming 

Try it on this week. Practice seeing and affirming the people in your life. You can do this by—

  • Removing distractions (devices) when you see them.
  • Saying hello and asking how they are. Then, listen.
  • Notice the good things they do and say, then point it out.
  • Send this to someone, and the next time you see them, exclaim, “I see you!”** 

Is it really that simple? Yes, but it’s not always easy… especially not when the world tells us that everything is going to fall apart if we don’t hurry up and get things done. 

Remember, seeing and affirming requires being with, not doing. And the better we get at being with each other (and ourselves), the more confident, courageous, and empowered we are. 

Here’s to your greatness,  

Misti Burmeister 

Misti Burmeister helps companies and leaders motivate and inspire excellence. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com 

** Yvette read this right after I wrote it. The next morning when I walked through the front door, she exclaimed, “I see you!” It took me a few seconds to catch on and reply with, “I am here!” They laughter first thing in the morning was awesome. Try it!