Being Charmed or True Caring?
You meet a charming person. They seem to shine just a little bit brighter than most and everybody loves them. Almost without noticing, you find yourself falling for them. You soak up their attention and what seems to be an incredible amount of caring, but you are cautious. You know from experience that with some, being charming can mask a deeper issue. Someone who is charming may be attempting to meet their own needs for acceptance by attending to your needs. But how can you know the difference between being charming in this way and true caring? What kind information is helpful to have before rushing headlong into a committed relationship?
Of course, every relationship is complex. Yet, there are some predictable patterns you can look for to help you get a sense of what someone can offer consistently and where their current limits might be. Here are three key variables to check in with:
1. span class="Apple-tab-span" style="white-space:pre;"> How does caring show up under duress?
Charming others takes an incredible amount of energy. As such, it can't hold up under stressful circumstances when resources are needed to cope with adversity such as illness, lack of sleep, or challenges at work. True caring on the other hand is born from love as its source. Love doesn't run out. So when someone who is truly caring is facing a stressor they may not access all the soft tones and words of caring, but their behavior is still aligned with caring. Their decisions are still based on caring.
2. span class="Apple-tab-span" style="white-space:pre;"> How are differences treated?
Charming others is often an attempt to be liked and accepted. With so much energy directed toward this endeavor, there is limited energy for offering true caring. Without the connection that caring engenders, differences can be perceived as threats to acceptance. A less sophisticated "charmer" may lash out with criticism in the face of a difference in order to get you to see "The Truth" of their view.
Subtler pushing away of differences look like this:
· Suddenly changing the topic
· Turning away physically
· Less eye contact or affection
· Leaving their own position to join yours
· Little jabs or jokes that make fun of or dismiss your position or preference
· An analysis of your side that leaves you feeling small.
· A persuasive speech about why their view is the right one.
· A sudden lack of curiosity
3. span class="Apple-tab-span" style="white-space:pre;"> How consistent is the ability to consider the impact of behavior on others?
True caring includes a commitment to connection with self or others. It doesn't always mean being directly engaged with another, but it does mean a consistent ability to consider the impact of one's behavior on others.
Charming others is typically riddled with little and big misses regarding the impact of one's behavior on others. Because being charming is usually a tragically ineffective strategy to meet needs for acceptance, when it inevitably fails there is often a sudden sense of disconnect or deflation (not necessarily conscious) for the person engaging that strategy. This shows up in a variety of behaviors that don't meet a need for caring like:
· Being late for or forgetting a date
· Disengaging from affection or any physical contact
· Dismissing another's experience
· Keeping the conversation exclusively focused on themselves
· Making demands
· Attunement misses
· Making one-sided decisions or refusing to collaborate
· Caught in reactivity, but unable to name it as such or make amends for reactive behavior
Noticing patterns like these is tricky business, because without mindfulness you can easily slide into judging others rather than noticing if your needs are met or unmet. With mindfulness though, recognizing a pattern can be particularly helpful in the face of charming behaviors. If you are entranced by another's charm, you may be tempted to ignore times when your needs go unmet as you pursue the dream of true caring. But if you see a single behavior as a possible part of a pattern, you are likely to pay attention to it. True caring isn't necessarily dazzling or exciting. It warms you over time melting your defenses little by little allowing the most authentic you to show up in relationship.
Take a moment now to reflect on relationship that has shown true caring over the years. What are three or four aspects of true caring that stand out for you in this relationship?