The Power of Witnessing and Being Witnessed
Recently Hank and I started attending couples therapy. There’s a lot of love between us but there are things we need help navigating. Hank did NOT want to go. In fact, due to a traumatic experience in his childhood he was convinced that all therapists were bad. Time and again we circled back around to the same issues and he finally agreed to go with me.
I’ve gone to therapy multiple times in my life but this was my first couples therapy (also my first as an adult) and I have to admit making the appointment, the morning before the appointment, riding down to the office, etc all caused me a LOT of anxiety. Much like sharing this intimate detail of my family life with all of you, I knew that Hank and I would have to share intimate details of our life with a stranger. We were going there for help but would that person actually be able to help us? Would we be brave enough to share our innermost thoughts and feelings in front of a stranger? Is it possible to have that level of vulnerability with someone whom you are not already intimately acquainted? I think the answer to that question is a personal one. For me the answer is ‘yes’ because I think this work is important and only ultimately leads to something better (Understanding? Common ground? Call it what you will.) Openness and vulnerability require a lot of willingness and intentionality.
As we got closer to the Male Feminism discussion I noticed these same feelings and questions bubbling up. This discussion and its aftermath helped me to realize the sources of the emotions I was feeling. In therapy just like in open honest discussions about how to help each other there’s an underlying need to be honest about one’s own shortcomings and that takes a lot of courage. There is also so. much. power. in witnessing others be vulnerable as well as having others witness your vulnerability. We’re all only human after all.
In therapy we’re making progress - but it’s weird - what Hank and I are saying in therapy is not all that distinct from the circles we had been weaving before we started. It’s almost as if simply having another body in the room holds us both accountable in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I can say the same for our latest ELU discussion.
Usually most everyone that joins us is self-selected, already openly willing to have these more nuanced and difficult discussions but that is not to discount the work or emotional labor of witnessing or of being witnessed. Our talk on Male Feminism is arguably the most emotional labor our group has ever performed together and makes me think that the best way to move forward and be more inclusive is to open our doors to everyone. Over this past year ELU members and participants have done the work of creating a collaborative and vulnerable space (some might call it feminine) and there’s power in having that space to commune and be supported by one another. After this month’s discussions I’m convinced that there is more power in including everyone who desires to talk about these issues. This experience has taught me that all people struggle with these societal questions and many are looking for ways to make it better no matter where you are on the power dynamic spectrum. All can benefit from witnessing and being witnessed.
Last night I finished Women & Power by Mary Beard which made such a powerful impact on me. She talks about the ways women are disempowered in public speech unless they are talking about things specific to the cause of women. I realized that was the niche I had been creating for myself too with the ELU - helping women empower themselves. But that focus is too narrow and has a shelf-life. Real change must be inclusive.
If you come, I will be your witness. And I hope you’ll be mine.
Casey is the founder of the ELU and is unapologetically navigating creative entrepreneurship. While she admits she doesn't always know what she's doing, she's fully embraced the 'fake it til you make it/everyone is faking it mentality.' She enjoys naps, whiskey and all things cat-related.