Practice Attunement to Feel Seen and Nurtured in Your Relationships?

There’s a very important factor that determines whether one or both parties in a relationship feel seen and nurtured. It applies to relationships across the board, from romantic to platonic, therapeutic to familial. And without it, miscommunication, fights, and hurt feelings are common. That factor is attunement. I’ll give the clinical definition first because it’s a word we often use in the field of psychotherapy and so you have a full picture of what attunement is and then I’ll describe attunement in layperson’s terms.

Attunement is a “kinesthetic and emotional sensing of others knowing their rhythm, affect, and experience by metaphorically being in their skin, and going beyond empathy to create a two-person experience of unbroken feeling connectedness by providing a reciprocal effect and/or resonating response,” according to clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Erskine.

A lot is happening in that sentence. However, some keywords are “sensing,” “empathy,” and “connectedness.” Putting them together, you could say attunement is sensing another person’s experience and using empathy (as well as action) to create a connection. Another way of putting it is reading the “emotional room” of another person. It’s sensing when another person needs comfort versus space. It’s understanding when to support your partner versus when to let them flounder. If that sounds difficult, it is! It is a learned skill that takes conscious practice.

The first place we experience attunement (or not) is childhood. An infant is not able to express with words when they are hungry, tired, or have a poopy diaper. It’s up to the caregiver to make that assessment and do something about it. This is where pediatrician and child psychotherapist D.W. Winnicott’s principle of the “the good enough [parent]” comes into play, meaning, reacting to an infant responsively and sensitively over time allows the infant to be appropriately dependent and to transition to an increasingly more autonomous position. But attunement doesn’t stop in infancy – it’s relevant throughout a person’s life. The key is not just becoming aware of another person’s feelings, it’s also taking appropriate action.

It’s one thing if a caregiver hears their kid cry and says, “Oh, they’re hungry,” and another thing to actually feed them. The same is true with adults. Empathy is an excellent first step that invites curiosity about another’s experience, but it only goes so far. Action, even if it’s just listening, is what creates attunement. I’m not saying you have to be a mind reader and intuit what another person needs. Nor should you assume someone else’s feelings. Checking in and communicating are always important in mature, adult relationships.

A word of caution: There is such a thing as going too far with attunement and becoming codependent or turning into someone who relies on being needed. A codependent is someone who likes to swoop in and give to others, compulsively. With codependency there’s a sense of sacrifice – the person is sacrificing their time, their energy, or even their sense of self. That’s not what I’m advocating. Healthy boundaries are important for successful, safe relationships and that means recognizing each person has limits, including you.

Instead, emotional attunement involves the perspective that you’re on the same team as your partner. You are working together, supporting one another as you navigate your emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant. When this isn’t done, it’s a form of abandonment and it erodes trust in the relationship. Attunement builds trust and rapport. So how then do you create emotional attunement? Keep reading.


Find your safe space

One step required for emotional attunement is safety. If you don’t feel safe expressing your emotions, attunement will be difficult. Safety is created with both verbal and nonverbal cues. For instance, if the person you’re in relationship with – a friend, a coworker, a parent – shuts down and emotionally withdraws whenever you express anger, you’ll quickly learn they are not a safe person for you to be angry around. You won’t want to clue them in to how you’re feeling because it’s worse than keeping your anger bottled up.

Related to safety is also expressing your own emotions in a safe manner. If you punch the wall when you’re mad, you’re not a safe person to be around either. Emotional attunement requires feeling your feelings, even when you want to push them away, and doing so in a non-harmful manner. That could mean taking space when you need it and communicating that with your partner. It could also mean working with a trained professional.

Listen before you speak

Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, really listen to what the other person is saying. By giving someone your full attention, you’re letting them know you care about their experience, which is crucial for emotional attunement. You’re also signaling that they matter because you’re not centering yourself in the conversation, meaning you’re not making the conversation about you and what you can contribute. (By the way, I have a PDF about this if you’re interested.)

Ask questions

Attunement may sound like mind reading, but I promise, it’s not! Ask questions if you don’t understand something the other person is saying. That helps them feel seen and known. It indicates you’re present with them because you’re really trying to learn what’s going on for them.

Notice nonverbal cues

The reality is sometimes we don’t know how we’re feeling, or our outsides don’t match our insides. You’ve likely had the experience where someone says they’re fine and clearly, they’re not. Nonverbal cues like posture, facial expressions, and energy levels will help you discern how the other person is feeling and act accordingly. It’s also important to ask questions here when you notice the nonverbal cues to ensure you’re not making assumptions. For example, “I’ve noticed you’re lying down a lot. Are you tired? Or is there something else going on?”

Share reality

A huge part of emotional attunement is being on the same wavelength with someone, or in other words, sharing their reality. If your partner is sad about losing the job they hated, reflect back that sadness: “I hear you. It sounds like you feel sad.” If you respond with, “That’s great, babe! You didn’t like that job anyway!” your partner won’t feel seen, heard, or understood. You don’t have to agree with them, but demonstrating you understand how they’re feeling will go a long way.

Spot your triggers.

Every person has something they are sensitive about. It could be physical, like going bald, or something related to past trauma like being cheated on. Whatever it is, it’s important to be aware of what your triggers are so you can communicate that to your partner. Doing so will support you in not becoming reactive and together, you can potentially avoid an emotional landmine. Identifying triggers goes both ways – encourage your partner to share their triggers as well (if that’s appropriate) so you know what to avoid or how to support them in feeling safe.

Emotional attunement is a process and a skill that takes practice. It’s not something learned overnight but there are actions you can take today to feel closer to the people in your life and vice versa. Share this article with them, and together, build the sort of relationship that is satisfying to you both.

What Is Self-Care Decision Making

Self-care-based decision-making is the habit of regularly asking yourself whether what you are about to do really serves you. That may sound fairly straightforward, but simple is not easy, especially when people tend to equate self-care with selfishness.

Psychpedia Self Care Article

There seems to be a boatload of confusion about the difference between healthy self-care and selfishness. Is that selflessness and generosity or is it the quickest way to work yourself into feeling overwhelmed, physically ill, and resentful?


How can taking good care of yourself lessen your ability to be there for others in a supportive, loving, and useful way? By healthy self-care I am referring to setting good boundaries, getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, not abusing substances, taking time to simply be, and investigating what energizes you and what depletes you. All those behaviors allow you to have the necessary emotional and physical stamina to be more useful to yourself and others. Last but not least, when you give, you will not give to the point of feeling overwhelmed and resentful.

Psychpedia Self Love Article

Overwhelmed resentment, especially when it’s left to fester, often results in physical issues. Healthy self-care is a preventative life strategy. A holistic way of taking responsibility for yourself so that you can actually function at a higher level while feeling more grounded and nourished.


Is it always thinking of yourself before other people? If so, that’s not what I mean. Healthy self-care is setting good boundaries, stopping over-giving, and truly being in touch with what serves you and what exhausts you. They are never selfish behaviors as they ultimately help you and everyone else. Not only that, they set an example for other people of what it means to have a more balanced life imbued with true kindness to yourself and others.

Psychpedia Selfishness Article

Shifting from over-giving to healthy self-care requires awareness of what you have been doing as well as how you would like to do things from now on. It can be helpful, at various times during the day, or when journaling, to ask yourself:

You may want to start with one question, as it’s quite a lot of self-inquiry at one time. Those are simply suggestions.

Your own body, mind, and spirit are always telling you what’s right for you. The difficulty is acting on that knowledge; especially, if you call it selfishness.

It’s not a competition between what’s good for you and what’s good for the people in your life. As hard as it may be to believe, when you take really good care of yourself it will always redound to other people’s benefit.

All day long you have opportunities to decide what you’re going to do. If you’re in the habit of taking good care of yourself your decisions will be filtered through that lens. If you’re in the habit of over-giving your decisions will be filtered through that lens. Only you can decide which truly nurtures your heart, mind, body, and soul. It’s never too late to switch gears. It’s never too late to patiently, gently, and lovingly take care of your own sweet self.

Psychpedia Self Confidence Article

*Source: Nicole Urdang MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC -