Knowing that we matter to someone else is a need we all share and one that when met produces pleasant emotions. With the realization that we matter in the life of another person comes the sense that we are valued, loved, known, included and wanted. Mattering is particularly important if that other person is someone that matters to you.
Marcheta P. Evans and Thelma Duffey wrote in a recent Counseling Today article on mattering, “We know we matter not only when our words, needs and opinions are seen as relevant to the other person, but also when they are important and worthy of consideration because we matter.” Essentially, a topic may not be important to me but because it is important to you and YOU are important to me, I now care.
My daughter recently had a decision to make, one that I had an opinion of which way I wanted it to go but I was okay with whichever choice she decided. Her answer was “I don’t care”. But it was said in that tone that tweens use that indicate that maybe they really do care. I was tempted to respond with my natural inclination and say something like “Fine, I’ll decide for you. But don’t complain if you don’t like what I decide.” Fortunately, this happened to be one of those days where an ounce of patience was available and my “sensitivity feelers” were on high alert regarding this topic. So, I was able to convey something more like “Your answer is not nearly as important to me as you are. So if this is something that you do care about, I care about it, because I care about you.” Interestingly, she made that tough decision without the negative emotional fallout that I had been anticipating. We stayed connected and she knew that not only did I value her opinion and desires but more importantly, I valued her.
The above story happened on a day where I had more time to anticipate her wants, emotional needs and my response. However, I miss a lot more opportunities to convey the message to my loved ones that they matter to me than I care to admit. Fortunately, there some easy ways to communicate that someone matters everyday so that when we miss (and since we are human we will miss) mattering cues it doesn’t impact their belief systems or the overall nature of the relationship.
- Greet with smile and a kiss (if appropriate for the nature of the relationship). If someone’s face lights up when I enter a room, I know that I matter to them.
- Say “goodbye” when they leave or “goodnight” before going to sleep. This simple act lets the person know that the time that was spent together was special and their absence will be noticed.
- Check in with them during times apart. For a spouse or child this may be a call in the middle of the day. For a friend or extended relative it might be a phone call once a week or month to say “hey, just checking up on you to see what’s happening in your life.” Calling only when you need something sends the message that their importance to you is only for what they can do for you. Calling with no agenda communicates that their relationship is important to you.
- Remove any distractions and make eye contact when talking to someone. This may mean stopping whatever activity you are engaged in to give your full attention to the other person, particularly the use of your electronic device. We live in a world that values multi-tasking (and electronic devices). However, there are times when I long to know that I am the most important activity of that moment. I imagine that is true for you and your loved ones too.
- Validate the other person’s perspective and emotions. You may not agree with their point of view or have the same emotional response but you can indicate to them that you understand how they might have that reaction. Just because their opinion or emotional reaction does not line up with yours does not mean that it is wrong… just a different perspective.
- Accept their influence. Knowing that we have made a positive impact on someone’s life is powerful. Allowing the important people in your life to offer advice or share their experience with you sends the message that you value their contribution to your life. This doesn’t mean that you follow everything they tell you to do. However, you can listen to their input, take in what represents your values and discard what doesn’t.
- Be grateful for what they do, what they give, who they are; even those parts that you don’t necessarily find enjoyable. I’m reminded of the story of the child being told to write a thank you note to grandma for the ugly sweater she gave him for his birthday. The child objected because he was not thankful for the sweater; he wanted a toy truck. Mom’s gentle reply, “That may be true but you are thankful for grandma.”
If you are longing to matter and have these sentiments reciprocated, know that these acts are contagious and apt to bounce back to you as you create an environment rich in demonstrating that other people matter to you.