Can it truly be that simple? 3 words? In seconds? Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. Within these three, very short words lie the essence of regulation, compassion and resilience. In fact, the mere stopping and pausing to say these words halts the unconscious process of chaos inside our bodies and minds. It allows for a shift in the brain from the lower centers of the brain to the higher centers of the brain. The pause offers powerful possibilities for responding to upset rather than reacting and feeding frenzy. More specifically, fight, flight or freeze become seeing a feeling, soothing the suffering and solving the problem. Thus, regulating thoughts, feelings and eventual actions aimed at reaching a goal; the very definition of resilience. So…
What are these magical mayhem relieving words?
“I see you.”
“I”-I, Mommy/Daddy/Teacher/your caregiver and attachment person, am here for you. Because I am your attachment person you can count on me to relieve (not remove) your suffering. I intentionally notice you, my dear child.
“See”-Mommy/Daddy/Teacher sees your suffering without judgment. I understand it’s not about
the cookie or crayon you didn’t get but about your upset feeling. I see your difficulty (I do not diminish it) recognize and validate your pain.
“You”-You matter to me. You are not your feeling. You do not know how to handle or soothe your pain. Let me show you. Let me share in your suffering not spare you your feeling. How I soothe you is how you will soothe yourself. You will be your own attachment person and learn to self soothe rather than seek outside relief from suffering as you grow up.
Do they really work?
Yes, yes they do. Pull up a chair, I’m going to tell you a short story about my dear student, “Cathy,” a 6 year old student who was repeating first grade. Cathy was diagnosed ADHD and OCD. She had two teachers within an 8-week period before I took over the classroom of kindergarteners and first graders. Her former teachers told me she wet and defecated in her pants 2-3 times per week despite knowing how to use the bathroom. Because she screamed, threw things and hit other children when she experienced upset, Cathy often played alone at recess. She was reading significantly below grade level but she loved to color and draw. Cathy needed to be seen.
Needless to say, any disruption to what Cathy was doing or wanted to do, caused her great upset which was only exacerbated by the other huge issues this little girl faced. However, Cathy especially did not like to stop coloring her morning work and get in line for activities such as Art, Music and PE. Initially, I implemented choices and consequences—the fits just got louder. Then it occurred to me that to stop coloring must be very hard for Cathy and I do not like to stop what I am doing in order to do something else, especially something I do not even enjoy! Maybe all Cathy really wanted was for me to see her suffering so I could help her develop tools for soothing it. Perhaps that was the message she was trying so desperately to communicate to me.
The next time we had to stop our morning work and get in line, I got down next to Cathy on her eye level, looked in her tired eyes and softly said to her, “I see you.” I simply looked at her and I immediately felt empathy for this little girl. Her usually stiff tense body softened and her face looked relieved. In just seconds. Was it these three words only? No, but they opened my heart to her experience and allowed me to calm myself, offer compassion to her and see her suffering without judgment. These three words allowed me to move on to, “Cathy, it’s so hard when you have to stop coloring to get in line, isn’t it?” To my amazement, she responded “Yes, Ms. Rolkowski it is.” I helped her breathe and offered her some ideas for calming down. But I could clearly see that all Cathy really wanted was for me to see that this was hard for her. Once I did that, Cathy knew her suffering was recognized and did not have to scream and shout to have it seen.
Cathy eventually began using the tools I taught her on her own as she learned how to recognize her feelings, settle them and soothe herself. Cathy never wet her pants again after that first day I “saw” her, and ended up reading on grade level by the end of the year. Three words, seconds and lifetime of skills.
Who can you “see” today?