There is immense value in learning how to respond to life situations where you are natural when you don’t have to perform. This requires being in touch with what you feel and also being open to seeing your experience with acceptance and clarity.
This is not something you can learn in a day or short time as, unfortunately, in our world, we haven’t been taught to just be open even toward ourselves as to what we feel, let alone be able to accept whatever it is. We need to unlearn many of the behaviors and attitudes that we were taught “to appear normal” at the expense of what is naturally occurring.
Paradoxically, when we are open to what we feel with acceptance, we stop being controlled by our feelings. The awareness and acceptance let the feelings be with us, and we are freer to guide ourselves in whatever way we believe will be most beneficial. Today, we’ll explore some of the keys to supporting this self-sufficiency that was so natural when most of us were children.
First, what’s affect in simple psychological terms?
“Affect is the outward expression of feelings and emotion. Affect can be a tone of voice, a smile, a frown, a laugh, a smirk, a tear, pressed lips, a crinkled forehead, a scrunched nose, furrowed eyebrows, or an eye gaze.”
A lack of performing is particularly nourishing and shows courage in close relationships or moments when you need to communicate something important and can just be authentic. Like laughter or music, it is quite universal that people around us can tell the difference between being our natural selves and amping ourselves up to make a good impression. This advice may not work for you if you suffer from depression or chronic anxiety, as you’ll need to be very perceptive about who you are with to avoid unnecessary added pain.
Let’s explore a few personal situations to see how this can benefit your life. This particular situation is one of the most common themes to support intimate connection for the last 40 years of my counseling life and an understanding with close friends. It’s when you are with people with whom you don’t have a close relationship or have a challenging relationship that you need to be more selective.
How can removing the pressure of performance help our familial interactions?
First, if you are seriously alienated or angry, I am not telling you just to let that leak out. However, almost all of us in that situation want to make the best of a difficult time and will overcompensate by acting more positively than necessary.
It has been one of the most successful and reliable interventions in a wide variety of gatherings, especially in families, to present an understated version of what you feel so you don’t have to try hard to suppress where you are, and yet still in most situations, you will come across more naturally. This allows us not to be drained by having to make so much effort.
This is also extremely common with relating to young kids you’re visiting and frequently can be true for parents when their kids are so alive with emotion and action. Using a more natural, effortless kind of love is very effective in connecting, especially with kids. This way, you’re not going out of your way to talk in a higher pitch or what is believed to be a more loving affect.
However, the rule of thumb in a very wide variety of circumstances is that when a natural love is there, there is no need for performance or pressure when talking with kids. This is a recipe for intimacy and saving energy. I have seen many parents and grandparents exhausted or tired after spending time with their loved ones. It is very innocent as all they do is what they consider loving. Similarly, when we stop “performing” this aliveness, I’ve noticed throughout family sessions or in my personal life — it has been extraordinary how much energy is preserved. The connection is almost invariably deeper and sweeter.
I encourage you to look for where you might be prone to giving this extra kind of “efforted enthusiasm” out of what I would say is naïve but sincere goodwill. Let yourself experiment by giving a 20% less energetic output and see how it affects both your energy and the person(s) you are interacting with.
This is also frequently true at parties. This is an area where I learned about this in my own experience. Being natural in my caring and not believing I needed to show a more enthusiastic love helped me feel relaxed and helped the contact as well. Each of us would benefit if we could see this inside ourselves by experimenting with various degrees of reducing our modulation of tone of voice and facial expressions. It doesn’t mean we need to be flat, just that we are more natural. This is one of the places where the adage “No performance and No effort” has been particularly useful for me and my close friends.
Client examples — how to use reduced performance pressure to help grieve for an estranged family member
The timing of this realization in my personal life coincided with a story about a client who was going to visit his dad, who was dying. They had been alienated through almost all of their relationship and hadn’t seen each other in 15 years. During one of our sessions, he asked, “What do you say to your father, whom you’ve been so angry and alienated by? But I still want to do my best to help him die without creating harm for myself.”
He told me the backstory that encapsulated their relationship. His father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and was having a meeting in their backyard. He was repulsed and went downstairs and peed in the lemonade. His father found out and beat the shit out of him.
Remembering this context and other stories of the same flavor but less dramatic, I said to him, “I would go back and at least visit him and sit in silence with him because there might not be anything to say and repeat a mantra, ‘No Performance and No Pressure.’ Give yourself permission not to have to say anything.”
He went home and sat with him for a couple of hours after a flight “home.” The only thing he could find to say in all of that time was, “Dad, I wish you as much peace as possible.”
The critical thing was that he could feel the beast inside himself relax. He didn’t feel pressured to come up with conversation or great words. He felt for himself and the dilemma that this situation presented. He could see the dignity in the silence. He trusted that he didn’t need to perform for him. It allowed for an ending that was as good as possible. Equally important, it relieved him of irrational guilt and pressure. He felt complete and strong and didn’t lose his energy. It left him less afraid with dramatically less pressure.
Almost all of us will face situations where we don’t know what to say in important situations. We can guide ourselves to permit ourselves to not put pressure on ourselves, including having to perform. Instead, we can focus on self-care, relaxing as much as possible, internal kindness, and reliance on silence when unsure of what to say or do. This permission has helped me and many others to have almost a kind of self-hypnosis to be in our natural state of maximum silent ease. We could nearly all use a bit more of this.