The Power of "Witness" as a Verb
Written by Catherine on August 18, 2020
“Sharing ourselves with others opens up a space where there once was none. Only through such space can positive memories occur and resilience prevail.”
--Kristi Pikiewicz Ph.D.
In psychology, the term “bearing witness” refers to sharing ourselves and our experiences with others or holding space while others share themselves and their experiences with us. There is much we can learn when we are brave enough to open our hearts to one another. Witnessing another person and being witnessed are both gifts to the other person and to ourselves. Being on either side of witnessing is a powerful opportunity for growth through acknowledgement, understanding, and skill acquisition.
In the world of consensual non-monogamy (CNM), I believe we have more chances than the average person to feel the power of sharing ourselves with others. It starts with the often scary, radically honest conversations with our primary partners about what we desire. We risk being rejected for the potential benefit of being truly seen. And wow - that feels so good when we are truly seen, heard, understood and loved anyway by the person we love most in the world! When this happens we feel more alive, whole and connected to each other.
Then we open ourselves to others. Again we risk rejection for the potential benefit of being seen and accepted by another. This might feel as or more scary if it is the first time we have done so with another after years of primary partnership. And again - wow - it feels so good to shine in the light of approval, attraction and desire!
Which leads to the common experience in CNM of watching or being watched during sexual play...voyeurism, exhibitionism, live porn - oh my! These options can add heat and intensity to explore - from small doses up to a fetish level of kink. It takes a similar type of vulnerability from exposure. We fight our body image and sexual prowess insecurities in order to descend below our noisy brains to arrive fully ripe and primal in our bodies.
All of these brave acts are forms of being witnessed. I believe this is at the heart of what makes CNM so attractive and downright addictive. We all long to be truly seen, heard, understood and loved (and/or desired) anyway. CNM forces us to be witnessed by being vulnerable to rejection, push through the fear, and put ourselves out there for connection. Of course not all of our bids for connection are met, but when they are - whew! Hold on tight for the fantastic ride!
As a slightly addicted rider of the fantastic CNM train and a nerdy counselor and coach to CNM folks, I want to tap into the power of witnessing for therapeutic purposes. This has led me to launch a new opportunity for CNM couples this fall… a group for couples coaching.
This couples group coaching course is a series of eight weekly 90-minute group coaching sessions via zoom. It will be limited to a closed group of 8 couples. During each session, one couple will receive coaching from me while being respectfully witnessed by the seven other couples. After the coaching session, the witnessing couples will share supportive feedback. This feedback will not be advice or “here’s what you did wrong and here’s what I would have done differently.” The witnessing couples will draw on their vulnerability and share how watching affected them personally, what they learned, and what they want to implement in their relationship.
“Wow - that sounds intense and scary! Wouldn’t private coaching with you be easier?”
Private coaching is a very different experience. It too can be powerful and helpful as I hold space to witness you. It can feel great to carve out the time, effort and money to be the sole focus of your own, your partner’s and my attention. Participants in the group will get the benefit of this during the included 30 minute consultation with me before the group starts. Each couple will also get my focus entirely during their week on the “hot seat”.
Group coaching gives you added benefit.
It is a chance to be witnessed by more of us, which can increase the impact.
It also gives you the opportunity to witness others.
This often brings new awareness and understanding to your own struggles by watching a couple’s dynamics while not being overly emotionally involved like you are with your own partnership.
You will also benefit by learning tools for giving better reflection and feedback during the group processing after holding space for the other couples. This is a chance not available in private coaching.
These skills will be useful for improving how you share and receive feedback within your partnership.
Are you ready to extend the power of the verb witness beyond the deep acceptance from radical honest conversations with your primary partner - beyond the adventure of shared attraction with another - beyond the thrill of being watched during play scenarios? Are you ready to step up as a witness for the vulnerability of another couple? Are you ready to be safely held by other couples as you are witnessed? Join us. See and be seen.
As one couple put it, “In therapy we’re making progress - but it’s weird - what my husband and I are saying in therapy is not all that distinct from the circles we have been weaving before we started. It’s almost as if simply having others in the room holds us both accountable in ways I couldn’t have imagined. There’s power in having that space to commune and be supported by one another.”