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What is Real? Do you Feel Real? A Lesson From the Velveteen Rabbit

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when he and the Skin Horse were lying side by side near the nursery fender?" ...

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse.

"It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.

-Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Chase and Ollie were re-reading the Velveteen Rabbit this week. Ollie has a beloved, fur-worn-out, no-stuffing-left, limp gray rabbit named "Bun Bun" which is, without a doubt, "REAL".

Coincidentally, I was reading Yoga and the Quest for the True Self when I came across a comparison with the Velveteen Rabbit and how we as humans all need to be recognized and affirmed. We have an innate need to be accepted and appreciated, to be seen with loving eyes and reflected back with warmth and enthusiasm. If you don't feel "really seen", you will be like the Rabbit before the Boy discovered him, lifeless and empty. It wasn't until the Rabbit was discovered by the Boy that he came alive. It took seeing himself through the Boy's loving eyes to become real.

The yoga book describes how we can't actually see our whole physical selves. We can see our arms, our legs, etc, but to take in our whole physical selves requires a mirror, or, even better, a photograph. Have you noticed how we eagerly look at pictures of ourselves and then have a moment when we think that the person in the photo can't be us because we had a different image in our head of how we look? The yoga book says, "the eyes through which we are seen become the eyes through which we see ourselves."

If our doctor or PA sees us as a lazy, whiny, needy, unmotivated obese patient, we're going to see ourselves like that and we're going to dread going to the doctor and we definitely won't be very motivated to improve. If, however, our PA sees us as someone who underneath is a scared human who feels overwhelmed by her health problems, home life, and financial worries, but who genuinely wants to have a healthy body, then we'll feel more motivated to get better by doing our part.

Patients, just like your spouse, partner, kids, and coworkers, just want to be seen. I've written about this before, but what the heck does it mean? We learned a technique in marriage counseling a few years ago called "mirroring" (practical advice came from Making Marriage Simple). It's basically "Velveteen Rabbit For Dummies" and teaches you how to let others know you really see them. It sounds hooey, but you'll see people blossom and literally come alive in front of you when they feel seen. Here are some techniques for seeing patients:

  1. Listen. Don't interrupt. Most of us interrupt within 30 seconds. Studies have shown that if you let the patient talk, most do so for under two minutes and you'll actually finish the visit faster than if you interrupt

  2. Repeat back to the patient what you think they said, as in, "Let me make sure I have your history right", and then launch into your version of what they said At the end, say, "Did I get that right?" If not, let them talk and then you try again

  3. The final step, after you've successfully repeated back what the patient was trying to convey, is to show empathy by guessing what they might be feeling. For example, "Wow, that's a long time to feel like bugs are crawling on you. I'm guessing you're super frustrated and at wits' end." The patient may say, "Actually, I'm angry because everyone thinks I'm crazy." In this case, you weren't picking up on their emotion correctly so you might need to listen more closely.

How can you help your patients feel "real" like the Velveteen Rabbit this week? Notice, too, how you feel when you're talking to friends, coworkers, or your partner. Do you feel truly seen and heard?

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