The world is filled with more than 7.5 billion people. All of us are living our lives surrounded by others. While humans naturally like to see themselves as unique, we all want to know our place in the world. Think about a time when you felt hopeless, alone, or depressed. What was happening in your life that caused you to feel this way? For most people, one symptom can be a lack of mattering. When we don’t believe we matter in the world it is hard to see how we fit in, which can cause a great deal of discomfort. During these times it is easy to have thoughts like:

“I don’t even know why I do this.”

“No one will care anyway.”

“It’s not like it matters.”

“What’s the point?”

“I don’t fit in.”

“I don’t care.”

“There’s no point in trying.”

“No one is there for me.”

“I just can’t win!”

How many of these sound even vaguely familiar? Regardless of our attachment style, all humans naturally want to feel as if they matter. Feeling that you matter aligns with our search for Meaning and Purpose, as it relates to us finding our place in the world. Here are some stories of how mattering…matters:

At Work

“I was sick of my job. I worked 9-5 in an office that demanded perfection. The expectations were high, and some people didn’t like that and left. When this happened we were expected to take on their workload without any extra time or support. I would come home from work each day miserable, and it didn’t help to know that I had to do it all again the next day. It felt like we employees were never considered and were just cogs in a machine. My boss ended up leaving and a new person came in to take his place. On the first day, our new boss stood up in front of everyone and said our workload is unreasonable. He then met with every one of us to ask us for feedback around potential changes. Suddenly I felt heard and understood. I still have bad days at work sometimes, but everything has felt so much better since my boss offered me a chance to feel included in the company’s decisions. Suddenly, I matter.”

With Family

“I come from a large family. Growing up with 6 siblings was a lot, and I know my parents did what they could, but it was hard on all of us. Saturday mornings were spent juggling sporting commitments, and weekdays were spent on chores. Sunday’s were always important to me as I would get ice cream with just me and my Dad. this always meant the world to me because it was just the two of us. This was until my oldest brother was accepted to the state basketball team, which played on Sunday afternoons. I felt like there was no time for me anymore. My dad knew this was hard on me, but told me there was nothing he could do. While I understood that there were only two parents with seven kids, it was easy to feel lost in the noise. One Sunday morning I got a phone call from my grandmother asking if I wanted to spend the day with her. This became a weekly occurrence as I grew closer to her. It meant a lot to me to know that there was someone in my life that was able to notice me and make time for me. I really mattered to her.”

With Friends

“I don’t have a lot of friends, but my friendship group is very close. I spend most weekends with my two best friends and we always get up to crazy stuff. This was until they both got partners. Suddenly they were busy on the weekends, which made me feel out of place. When they went on double dates without me I would always feel like they didn’t care anymore. It felt like I lost my value because I didn’t have a significant other. I started seeing them less and less, which really hurt me. We would still message a lot, but whenever I wanted to do something they always seemed to have plans. My birthday was coming up and I was dreading this time as I would usually get a hotel somewhere with my friends for the whole weekend. My birthday weekend arrived and both friends showed up at my house, bags in their hands. We spent that weekend as we always do for my birthday, and I was able to tell them how I was feeling. They listened to me and let me know that our friendship hasn’t changed. Since then they have made much more of an effort to include me. I feel mattered because they heard me and showed me that they care.”

With a Romantic Partner

“I love my partner more than anything, but times have been tough. I recently lost my father to cancer, and I haven’t been coping well. My partner is not the most emotionally connected person, so it’s really hard to talk to him about it. He does his best to support me but usually ends up saying something like ‘well you’ll get over it eventually’ or tries to fix the problem which can’t be fixed. I have started talking to my friends about my grief as they have been supportive, which means less time connecting with my partner. I have been feeling more distant from him lately and it seems like he is avoiding me more. I am really hurting and it is starting to feel like he doesn’t care, which makes everything worse. It felt like my feelings didn’t matter to him. One night I came home from work and the house was dark. I walk in to see candles everywhere and my partner holding flowers. He sits me down on the couch and asks me to tell him everything. He sat there and listened to me talk and cry while holding me in his arms. He told me he felt useless lately because he hasn’t known how to help me and has been desperate to reconnect with me. Talking to friends they told him to just listen and be there, and so he tried it. He made so much effort just for me; it made me feel exceptional as he showed how much I matter to him.”

When we believe we don’t matter it can feel like we are going through the motions, that nothing in our life holds meaning…so what’s the point?

The Spectrum of Mattering

While more obvious with an ambivalent attachment style (as they crave validation from others) these signals may not be so clear to someone with an avoidant attachment style.

How we can feel when we matter:

  • Trusting
  • Confident
  • Supported
  • Willing to take risks
  • A sense of community
  • Connected with others
  • At peace
  • Joyful

How we can feel when we don’t matter:

  • Alone
  • Depressed
  • Like there is something missing
  • Scared
  • Low self-esteem
  • Helpless
  • Lethargic
  • Disconnected from the world

A lack of mattering can negatively affect our wellbeing, and when considering our relationships, can cause a disconnect. In turn, this can create fear of the end of your connection with this person, which can be quite distressing to experience, especially in a romantic relationship. All humans want to feel that they matter in their relationships, and so we must make sure that those close to us know that they matter to us.

Two core aspects exist in our need to matter; Recognition, and Impact:


  • The belief that our existence in the world matters.
  • Signals from the world that show how our actions hold meaning.
  • Commonly acknowledged by the community where we seek validation (i.e.: family, friends, workplace, etc.).


  • The belief that what we do makes a difference in the world, which comes from our sense of agency and autonomy, acknowledging that the choices we make can have an impact on the world.
  • More specifically speaking, the impact is acknowledging when we know that other people depend on us. We hold an impact on the world when our choices can affect another person.

Here are some examples of when recognition and impact may not be present in our lives:

Our sense of Mattering can become wounded when…

At work

  • Our contributions go unnoticed
  • We feel unheard
  • We do not receive positive feedback or praise
  • Our work is not fulfilling our sense of purpose
  • We do not have social engagement with others

With Friends

  • Communication is minimal
  • We are not invited to certain engagements
  • There is a lack of vulnerability
  • We do not feel like a priority
  • Social invitations are ignored

With Family

  • We feel left out
  • Social invitations are ignored
  • We believe others are being prioritized
  • We feel unheard
  • We feel that we do not have a place

In a Relationship

  • Bids for connection are not validated
  • We feel unheard
  • We do not feel like a priority
  • Communication is minimal
  • Our partner does not reach out for support

Mattering as an Adult

Overall, we need to feel that our life holds purpose and that we can make contributions to the world that offer validation, and evidence that our lives hold value and meaning. Here are how a day can go when offered an exorbitant about mattering, versus relatively nothing:

A Day of Mattering

When living with others (partner or roommate)

  • Wake Up  – Greet others while getting ready for your day.
  • Breakfast – Connect with your partner/roommate, talk about your days or shared interests.
  • Commute to work – Listen to the radio or a podcast. You are focused on driving and listening to something you enjoy, taking in the world.
  • Day at work – You feel a part of a team and contribute as such. You know your place at work and know you have an impact on the business.
    • Lunch Break – Connect with your co-workers.
  • Dinner Time – Talk about your day. Share stories and enjoy good company.
  • Time at Home – Personal time is productive, and connection time with others is prioritized most nights.
  • Bedtime – You connect with your roommate or partner before bed, and go to sleep knowing you matter.

When living alone

  • Wake Up  – Get out of bed and get ready for work.
  • Breakfast – Eating by yourself while messaging others or reading about what is happening in the world (ie: social media feeds or news apps)
  • Commute to work – Listen to the radio or a podcast. You are focused on driving and listening to something you enjoy, taking in the world.
  • Day at work – You feel a part of a team and contribute as such. You know you
    • Lunch Break – Connect with your co-workers.
  • Dinner Time – Either similar to breakfast or dinner with others in a social setting.
  • Time at Home – Time spent on your own passions or connecting with others (ie: messaging friends).
  • Bedtime – Get ready for bed and sleep feeling connected to others.

A Day without Mattering

When living with others (partner or roommate)

  • Wake Up  – Get out of bed and get ready for work
  • Breakfast – Eat with minimal conversation. You are feeling social but not overly engaged in the conversation.
  • Commute to work – Listen to the radio or a podcast.
  • Day at work – Do your daily tasks as you need to. You don’t ask others for feedback and conversations are based on ‘small talk’.
    • Lunch Break – This time is more about consuming food than anything else. You’ll talk to others if they talk to you, but you don’t mind either way.
  • Dinner Time – Eat with minimal conversation. You are feeling social but not overly engaged in the conversation.
  • Time at Home – Potentially spent with others doing something medial (watching TV, chores, etc.)
  • Bedtime – Bedtime rituals focus on yourself, say goodnight to others as you head to bed.

When living alone

  • Wake Up  – Get out of bed and get ready for work.
  • Breakfast – Focus on your food, or your phone/tablet.
  • Commute to work – Listen to the radio or a podcast, going through the motions.
  • Day at work – Do the tasks you need to do at whatever standard you choose. You don’t care what others think.
    • Lunch Break – Eating by yourself, not engaging in conversation.
  • Dinner Time – Focus on your food/tablet.
  • Time at Home – Personal time spent without connection with others (ie: messaging friends).
  • Bedtime – Get ready for bed and sleep not feeling connected to others.

It is important to note that these scenarios may not speak holistically to a single person, but are rather the stereotypes of mattering. When we feel that we matter we are more connected and engaged with the world around us, while not feeling as if we matter causes more of an isolated existence or selfish nature. While each column is similar, the rows show vastly different experiences.

It is important to note that the feeling of mattering exists on a spectrum. The day of mattering when living with others showed a view of someone with a strong feeling of mattering, while the day without mattering when living alone verges on a pathological level of loneliness and visibility that can be dangerous for someone to experience. Here are some examples of what mattering can feel like within the two extreme ends of the spectrum:

When I make a request… On my birthday… When I share a concern… If time goes by without communication with friends… When working as a part of a team (ie: sports or occupation)
Mattering My request is heard. If my need is not met, I understand why this is the case. I receive gifts and words of affirmation from others celebrating the day. My concern is addressed and I feel validated for my contribution. My friends reach out to see how I am. We talk about each other and I feel cared for. I am given opportunities to contribute and feel a part of the team.
Not Mattering I am told no with little justification. I do not feel heard or understood. I receive little interaction from others. My concern is brushed off or ignored. I do not feel heard or understood. My friends don’t reach out, I feel isolated. I am not offered advice or invitations to contribute. I don’t feel as if my contributions matter.

Mattering as a Child

As children, we learn about the world around us, and this carries us into adulthood. How mattering affects us in our early years shows us how we see our sense of mattering in the future. See below:

Mattering As…

A Child

We are learning who we are and what it means to be human. Feeling that we matter allows us to understand our place in the world as we learn about our autonomy and where we fit. It is important for a child to feel that they matter for them to feel comfortable exploring the world and finding their place. When a child believes they matter there is more confidence and joy when it comes to this exploration.

An Adolescent

While we learn about autonomy as a child, we test it as an adolescent. At this point, we are trying to discover our identity and learn more about who we are. If we feel like we do not matter during this time it can lead to hopelessness and depression. Teenagers need to believe that they matter for them to have the confidence to learn more about themselves, knowing that there is a place for them in this world.

An Adult

When we become adults we have a greater understanding of our place in the world, and there is less testing when it comes to who we are. Nonetheless, this sense of mattering must continue to foster purpose. When an adult believes they hold value in their current state of being it can foster joy and passion around what they do. This passion makes work, home, and social life more enjoyable.

Mattering is a concept that is with us from birth and stays with us until our death. While our engagement with these changes greatly, our desire to matter does not. We crave the feeling of mattering in order to understand our place in the world; to give ourselves value. When thinking of Mattering through the Attachment Theory lens, we can see how each attachment style forms our own beliefs around mattering. See below:

Secure Attachment
“I believe I matter because my parent(s) (or caregiver(s)) are attentive to my needs. I understand the place I hold in the world and I feel comfortable exploring and discovering the world to find my own purpose. My parents give me intentional praise for my unique achievements, and also give me feedback on how to improve when needed. I feel comfortable talking to my parents about difficult topics because I know they will accept me and talk about it with me.”

Ambivalent Attachment
“I crave the feeling of mattering, and it is something I receive inconsistently. I feel connected to others when I feel that I matter, and when I feel disconnected from others I will commonly be distressed because I worry that I do not matter. My own esteem is easily affected by the validation of others, and if I don’t believe I matter it is easy for me to become dysregulated from my emotions.”

Avoidant Attachment
“I am unsure if I matter because people inconsistently show me that they are there for me. I don’t know what kind of positive impact I hold on the world but acknowledgments of my contributions do not always occur. I don’t want to rely on other people for validation around my presence, but my independence does not always mean that I believe I matter to others.”

Disorganized Attachment
“I want to matter to others, but I become scared when this is acknowledged. Other people scare me, and it is easier for me to keep my distance, but this can easily cause me to feel like I don’t matter. When I get close to others and feel that I matter to them, this is also overwhelming as I can become fearful of how this person may negatively affect my well-being.”

The Feeling of Mattering

This all sounds like a bunch of doom and gloom, so let’s get to learning how to make sure people feel that they matter. For someone to feel holistically like they matter they need to feel valued by themselves, their community, and those with whom they have a close relationship. They also need to feel as if they add value to these areas as well. So…what can mattering look like?

In my community…
“I believe I matter in my community so I remain confident in how I engage with others. I am more willing to extend myself to support others and take extra risks as I know I am supported. My behavior matters to others, and so I consider others in the decisions I make that may affect the community, and I know I am respected for the choices I make.”

With my friends…
“I believe I matter to my friends so I am very often willing to be honest and vulnerable with them. If any of us have something bothering them, we are able to speak about it, and I know I can be supportive to my friends, just like they are with me. I get along great with my friends and rarely feel like I can’t be myself around them. I am happy to explore new things, and I trust my friends wholeheartedly.”

With my romantic partner…
“I believe I matter to my partner, as I know they are there for me. I am willing to be honest and vulnerable with them, and I trust that they will come to me when they need me as well. I am willing to explore the world (literally and/or metaphorically) with them and can try new things with little hesitation. I understand that our actions can affect each other, and am respectful of this fact.”

With myself…
“I believe I matter, and so I have a solid sense of self-awareness. I have high self-esteem and can connect with others with a high level of ease. I love to take risks and try new things, and I make my own choices outside of seeking validation from others. While I love being social, I also love time to myself.”

Note: These examples focus on mattering in a positive light. It is possible to feel as if you matter in a more narcissistic way, where your actions exist without others in mind, and this is not the focus of this section.

How Can We Matter?

As you can see from the above, each section sounds like someone with a secure attachment. A big part of having a secure attachment comes down to understanding how you matter in the world. When speaking to mattering within communities and relationships, we need to identify external sources — others who offer validation to yourself — you matter.

And, vice versa — that others matter to you.  If we can make sure that we specifically validate others around their contribution to our lives, it will help others feel that they matter. We can offer this validation by giving attention to others, showing that we notice them, or that we are interested in their existence. We also need to show them that they are important to us. We can do this through any love languages, including spending time with them, gratitude, or words of affirmation.

Finally, having mutual dependence evidence that you matter to one another.. Asking for support or being vulnerable with someone while offering them your support and openness are some pathways. Being present and allowing others to feel your presence is key. Here are some ways to specifically create the space for people to feel that they matter:

  • See/Hear/Feel Others
    1. Feeling seen by others is a HUGE source of validation. Acknowledge the existence of others with some of these simple phrases:
      1. “I notice the way you…”
      2. “I can see that…”
      3. “I get it”
      4. “You mean a lot to me”
      5. “I appreciate how you…”
      6. Any intentional form of gratitude
    2. You can also show people you see them by smiling when you walk past, saying “good morning” or asking how they are.
    3. See section on Compassion
  • Show your interest during communication
    1. When someone talks, avoid nodding or just saying ‘mhmm’ or ‘okay’. Make that person your point of intention, and respond accordingly.
      1. “That sounds frustrating”
      2. “I can see your passion when you talk about…”
      3. “I can imagine that would be difficult…”
      4. “It sounds like you had a lot of fun”
    2. You can ask other questions that show them they matter.
      1. What was your favorite part of your day?
      2. How can I make your day better?
      3. How do you feel about…?
      4. What can I do to help you?
    3. See the section on Listening
  • Offer Hope/Happiness/Support
    1. When we encourage others it can lift their confidence greatly. Alternatively, negativity can cause others to think pessimistically. When talking to others, offer that positive perspective they may need to hear. You can use phrases like
      1. “It may all work out for the best”
      2. “How can we make this situation better?”
      3. “I know you can get through this!”
    2. It is also important that any positivity doesn’t discredit other people’s actual feelings. Here are supportive yet hopeful phrases:
      1. “That sounds difficult! What options do you have?”
      2. “I know you feel helpless, and it seems like…”
      3. “I can see you are upset, let’s just sit here for a while. I am here for you.”
    3. See Hope and Listening and Compassion
  • Share yourself with others
    1. Options 1-3 are great communication tools to let others know that they matter to you, and they must know you care that they matter to you.
    2. Be honest and open with others, just as you have allowed them to be with you.
    3. Vulnerability must go both ways, so allow others to give their everything to you, and give your everything to others as well.
    4. See section on Friendship

Mattering in Action

While the above shows different ways we can emotionally show up for others and make them feel that they matter, there are other avenues we can take as well. We can show people that they matter to us with our attentiveness and thoughtfulness towards them. Here are some examples of things you can do for others:

  • Offering someone a glass of water when you get one for yourself.
  • Cleaning a communal area.
  • Buying someone a meal or drink.
  • Reminding someone to put on sunscreen.
  • Letting someone know they have food on their face.
  • Buying someone a gift (special occasion or not).

These more physical acts can be done for friends, workmates, romantic partners, family members, acquaintances, even strangers. While these acts of kindness do not stem from a verbal emotional connection, they can show someone that we care about them and are willing to support them. Giving a sandwich to a homeless person can tell them that we value them, and let them know that they matter to us.

If we are performing these actions we mustn’t be doing so for reasons of Dirty Communication. Acts of kindness (and mattering) are designed to have a positive effect on the other person. If what we are doing comes from a belief that the other person can’t/won’t do it themselves, or that we want to protect them from something outside of their knowledge these acts turn to pity for them or self-righteousness, which is not the intention. Mattering in action comes from a place of kindness for those involved, as we are truly showing that they matter to us. We use these tools to say “I care, you matter”.

Mattering to Ourselves

When speaking specifically about mattering to ourselves, there is a need to consider self-love and self-care. This can be harder to consider as we need to understand the self-esteem of each person, as well as their access to social avenues. Someone with low self-esteem or someone who is regularly socially isolated will naturally have a harder time believing they matter.

It is important to remember that this aspect of mattering exists outside of how others perceive us, or how we interact with others. Mattering to yourself is all about how you contribute to your own positive life. This form of mattering can allow a human to experience more resilience and joy in their own lives. If we believe that we matter to ourselves, it can allow a much higher level of confidence.

External Validation and Self Love

In order to have the feeling of mattering within yourself, we must have that sense of recognition and impact from others. You might be thinking; why do I need validation from others to experience self-love? This is certainly a weird concept, and as humans, we biologically desire connection with others. For most, we value ourselves based on our connections with others, as well as feedback from others. For this reason, our esteem can be boosted in a more positive way when we feel positive about our own contributions to the world outside of ourselves. Here are some examples of what this form of validation can look like in different settings:

Validation from your partner:

  • Praise or gratitude for your contribution to the relationship.
  • Engagement in your love languages.
  • Experiencing vulnerability from your partner (knowing they feel safe with you).
  • Having your vulnerabilities helped by your partner.

Validation from co-workers:

  • Positive feedback on your personal tasks/performance.
  • Invitations to events outside of work.
  • Engaging in deeper conversations that don’t relate to work.
  • Positive interactions and feedback when working as a team.

Validation from your community:

  • Feeling good about volunteer or charity work you have performed.
  • Receiving praise for an achievement within your local sports team.
  • Love language moments from family members.
  • Celebrations for key events (ie: Birthdays, Holidays, etc.)

Mattering in a Committed Relationship

In a deeply committed relationship, partners often have different wants concerning love languages, daily life tasks, sexual desires, special requests and what time together may look like (among much more). Within this, it is easy to feel as if we are not a priority to our partner, or feeling like we don’t matter. When this occurs one partner may feel disconnected or drifting away from their partner, which can offer dangerous consequences. The feeling of mattering for both parties in a romantic relationship is paramount for the success of the relationship. Here are some things you can do when you don’t have the feeling of mattering from your partner:

  • Reach out to them using their love languages.
  • Offer them some different bids for connection. (see below)
  • Find a time to speak to them about how you are feeling and what you need. (If you feel safe to do so, or seek professional help)
  • Do things to have a positive impact on your partner.

If the above strategies do not work, and you desire the feeling of mattering outside of the relationship, you mustn’t break any commitments made to your partner in the process. Relying on one person to meet all (or even most) of your wants/needs is a recipe for disaster! This can be a lot to put onto a single person, and so a network of significant others is essential. By ‘significant others’ we look at close friends, family members, and people within your inner circle rather than polyamory or infidelity. If a relational commitment is likely to be broken a conversation needs to occur with your partner (see A.R.E. below).

Personal Tools for Mattering

For more personal considerations around self-love, consider the linked Meaning of Life section. For other tools to learn how to feel as if you matter, consider the following options:




  • Go for walks in areas with beautiful scenery
  • Start engaging deeply in yoga or meditation
  • Engage in positive mindfulness practices.


  • Treat yo’ self to small gifts from time to time
  • Reach out to friends when possible (Remember you are connected to a larger world)
  • Take yourself out on a date (ie: Solo trip to the movies, your favorite restaurant, etc.)
  • Pamper yourself regularly (as long as it doesn’t break the bank)

Ultimately, find time to give yourself the pleasure you desire. While some of the above aspects can relate to other people, this external form of validation can still support your sense of self when it comes to mattering.

Where Mattering Falls Flat

As humans, we naturally crave the feeling that we matter. We want to matter, and most people want to show others that they matter. Unfortunately, some natural interactions can occur in life and hinder our feelings of mattering. While negative interactions with others will always be a part of life, we can change the way we phrase these interactions to foster a more caring and mattering space. Let’s take a look at some of the tools to cool down these interactions:


Complaining can be a natural part of life. When we experience discomfort it is natural to want to express ourselves. Complaining can be cathartic…there is nothing wrong with a nice vent is there? Well, complaining has been found to increase stress and put a deeper strain on our mind. If you are someone who complains a lot, you are also likely to be less happy day-to-day than someone who doesn’t. However, these facts do not speak for all kinds of complaints.

When we complain about things outside of our control, we are essentially telling someone (or something) else to change so our discomfort is removed. When we complain about other people, it can easily lead to deeper criticism, resentment, and contempt. When we are resentful or contemptuous against others then we are not showing that they matter, and when we receive criticism we naturally feel as if we do not matter. Complaints can be a hard taskmaster in the world of mattering, and when you complain to someone’s face it can cause defensiveness from the other person, which can easily make you feel not heard and not mattered. What a crazy whirlwind!

It is difficult to express mattering when we are complaining. So how do we get out of this headspace? Firstly, it is important to reflect on what the goal is with our complaint. If we are complaining to complain, then this likely has no purpose and so it may be more beneficial to find another way to express ourselves (ie: Mindfulness). If we are wanting to feel heard or offer feedback to someone else with our complaint, then it is essential to understand what we are wanting to express. Are we wanting the other person to change their behavior? If so, see the section below on ‘Should’ing and shaming. Are we wanting to offer feedback? If so, you are in the right place. The Gottman Institute has spent decades researching relational interactions, and have built the key to complaining. Check out the three simple steps below:

  1. Express how you feel
    1. Rather than starting with classic judgement terms like ‘You always’ or ‘I am sick of’ we simply express how we are feeling about a situation. This needs to be said in a soft tone for the partner to not feel attacked.
  2. Talk about a very specific situation
    1. Describe the situation (or behavior) that caused the feeling you just expressed. Make sure you tell your perspective of the situation with ‘I’ statements and avoid ‘you’ statements as that is when we turn to criticism of our partner.
  3. State a positive need
    1. Make a request that can support you in meeting your needs. Make sure this request is realistic for both you and your partner to achieve, but be honest about what you need to resolve your feelings.

Instead of complaining, we can shift into the above framework and offer feedback to our partner instead. By changing the way we speak to our partner we can turn towards our partner and allow them to understand our experience without the judgments that can come from complaining. While this framework may not always resolve all of the problems in a relationship, it allows more empathy from both parties and in turn can let both partners feel that they matter as they build mutual solutions together. If you believe your partner will be more likely to become defensive around the above interaction, you can also try the SEIEM method, which is longer but offers a deeper perspective and empathy.

‘Should’ing or Shaming

Another common conversation tool that can arise is offering shame or telling people they ‘should’ act/be a certain way. When we do this we remove someone else’s autonomy as we try to shape them to be more like us. It is hard to feel as if you matter when someone is telling you that your choices are not what they should be. When we offer shame (or a ‘should’) we are putting the person into a corner. We are essentially saying ‘Do this or feel bad’, which is never a kind offering. Check out the dangerous effects of the word ‘Should’.

While ‘Should’ing or Shaming someone can offer negative emotions, it is possible to still make a request while showing that they matter. This can come in the form of an invitation. When we invite someone to change their behavior we can express our feelings around a situation (while acknowledging that these are our perceptions) before inviting the other person to make a change, in turn respecting their autonomy. Let’s see some examples of this in action:


“I can’t believe you borrowed my car without asking me! I had a lunch date planned and now it’s ruined!”

“You should come with us on Sunday. Everyone will be there and they’ll be pretty disappointed if you don’t show up.”

“Everyone else is doing it. Don’t be a coward!”


“I am frustrated because you borrowed my car without asking. I would love it if you would ask me next time in case I do need to use it.”

“Would you like to hang out with our friendship group on Sunday? I know everyone would love to see you.”

“I understand that you are apprehensive about this experience, are you sure you’re not willing to try it?”

While these comments are still addressing negative feedback, you can see that some of the sting is taken out. We are still able to express our feelings and needs without taking away someone’s autonomy. This in turn can allow people to feel that they matter more as they are not being limited, or feel forced to make a specific choice.

It is important that when we offer someone an invitation that we treat it as such. This means that if the person chooses not to take our invitation, this is respected. This can be extremely hard to do sometimes. When someone’s negative choices are affecting us in a negative way it may be important to distance ourselves from them.

There may be times when an inviting conversation may not be helpful. If the person we are talking to is in their reactive brain, or not feeling fully balanced our invitation could be met with defensiveness, guilt or frustration. This is not helpful in the way we want, and so we will need to take another route. The SEIEM method is another conversation tool that allows a deeper inward expression that can support your partner in understanding your thought processes without feeling defensive.


When we are being demanding it is essentially the nail in the coffin when it comes to connection. If ‘should’ing or shaming ignores someone’s autonomy, demanding is the attempt to remove it completely. Demanding puts us straight into the reactive brain, and so having a balanced conversation is near impossible as you will likely be met with defensiveness or aggression. To better understand these kinds of conversations check out the page on Demon Dialogues.

While the other examples of mattering hindered conversation tools offer ways to rephrase what we say, this does not exist when we are demanding. If we are feeling flooded and start demanding we are not in the headspace to have a balanced conversation around feelings and needs. John Gottman recommends walking away for at least 30mins to reset yourself before continuing this conversation. If you return 30mins later still feeling unbalanced…give yourself another 30mins. If we are choosing to have a demanding conversation we are not respecting the autonomy of the other person, and are not letting either party feel connected to one another.

So we take a break…and what can we do? Mindfulness tools can be excellent strategies to bring us back to our centre. This doesn’t always mean meditation or deep breathing. Find an activity you love that can help bring you back to your natural baseline. These kinds of activities can include:

  • Yoga
  • Boxing
  • Gardening
  • Playing an instrument
  • Going for a walk
  • Drawing
  • Cooking
  • Swimming
  • Craft Activities
  • …the list goes on

Check out some great examples in our Mindfulness Toolbelt.

When we are feeling balanced again we can look to the advice in the ‘Should’ing and Shame section on how to create an invitation. Remember, we want to empower the both of you, and so there is a need to respect the autonomy of either partner and connect over each person’s experience. Any request for change needs to be an invitation, avoiding criticism and blame at all costs. As previously shared, SEIEM is a great communication tool in this regard. We feel mattered when we feel heard and respected, and so both parties must walk away with this feeling.

There may be times when someone is demanding towards us, and during these times it is easy to become defensive, which doesn’t help the situation. It is important to remember that if our partner is demanding it is more about how they are feeling than anything else. If we can help our partner during this time it may support them in soothing, so a more balanced conversation can occur. Reflect/Reframe/Validate is an excellent tool to allow someone to feel heard, and may support your partner in venting their experience before creating an actionable conversation. It can be hard to remain balanced when someone is being demanding, but if we can do our best to stay calm and work through what our partner is feeling it can support both parties in feeling that they matter.


As you may now know, feeling that you matter is primarily related to your connection with other people. When considering this connection, the A.R.E. model is important to remember. A.R.E stands for:

  • A – Accessibility
    • Are you able to meet your partner where they are?
  • R – Responsiveness
    • Can you rely on your partner to respond with positive emotions? (ie: empathy, concern, etc.)
  • E – Engagement
    • Do you feel valued and emotionally close?

When we use the A.R.E. method we are essentially asking ‘Are you there?’ in the deepest way. We want to know that our partner is there for us in mind, body, and heart. We can also look at it like this:

  • A = Trust
    • Do I trust my partner to be here for me?
  • R = Compassion
    • Will I receive compassion from my partner?
  • E = Validation
    • Will this conversation help me feel validated by my partner?

When each of these aspects is present, they create the environment for each partner to feel secure in the relationship. The A.R.E. (or T.C.V.) models can be used in any relationship within our lives to help reflect on how we engage with those around us. Here are some examples of how these aspects can come up in a strong way:

Intimate Relationship Friends Co-workers Family
Accessibility I am aware of my partner’s current emotional state and I feel comfortable supporting them. I know my friend is feeling upset, and I can be there for them as they need me. I know my colleague is stressed, and I know I can be there for them right now. I can see that my family member is unhappy, and I feel capable of supporting them at this moment.
Responsiveness I trust that my partner will respond to me in a way that doesn’t offer emotional harm. While my friend is unhappy, I know they will not take their feelings out on me. I need to offer my colleague feedback and I trust that they will be positively receptive to this. I have to tell my mother some bad news, and I trust that I will feel emotionally safe during this conversation.
Engagement I believe that my partner wants to be here with me at this moment. I know that I can reach out to my friends when I need to and they will be there for me. I feel supported by my colleagues and know I can gain support when needed. I know that my family will be there for me when I need them, and I regularly feel supported by them.

While these are some rather basic and vague examples, we can see the feelings and needs that link with each category. Humans naturally want to feel supported by those around them, as well as the desire for basic human connection.

When looking at the A.R.E. model we can see that each of these steps is searching for trust, compassion, and validation within the specific relationship. The key to giving and receiving this trust, compassion, and validation from those around you is to hold awareness of the interactions that you have and speak honestly and compassionately.

It is important to feel emotionally safe and supported in all relationships of your life, and this goes both ways. When interacting with others, ensure that you are making yourself accessible, responsive, and engaging to them. If you are unable to be any of these three categories, then be honest and express where you are at. This honestly can still offer a safe space to the people around you. When engaging with someone that is not meeting any of these three categories, there are four choices:

  1. Speak honestly about how you are feeling and make a request that will help you feel more supported
  2. Understand that people can not always remain balanced, and accept the interaction for what it is
    1. While understanding that this doesn’t speak to your overall connection with this person
  3. Walk away as this connection is not serving or supporting you.
  4. Seek emotional support elsewhere, and return when you are more balanced
    1. This could also mean a therapist if possible

While the third option is best if these interactions are consistent and you regularly don’t feel appreciated in this relationship, sometimes taking a break is important as well. Remember we can’t control other people, but we can find ways to help ourselves feel emotionally safe in negative environments.

It is important to note that while the A.R.E. model is a strong offering to build emotional closeness, it is not always realistic. There are times when we naturally feel threatened or triggered, and in these moments it is difficult to be the person others may want us to be.

Likewise, forcing ourselves to become such a person may be at the detriment of everyone involved. When you feel unable to foster the A.R.E. model when required, work toward offering your genuine self and share why such an interaction would be a challenge for you. With this, make a request that will support you in soothing yourself, and make plans to be more accessible, responsive, and engaging later.

For example, you have had a hard day at work and you are feeling exhausted and angry. You get home to find out that your partner has received some upsetting news. The natural desire is to ‘suck it up’ and be there for them, and faking this may put further strain on you and make you less available to your partner. If you can express “Honey, that sounds awful. I want to be there for you, and right now I need to settle after work before I can be fully present with you. Let me have a shower and I will be back soon to hear what you have to say.” With this response, you have acknowledged your partner’s feelings and expressed your own needs. You have also made plans to be accessible. While doing this makes you less accessible to your partner at this moment, it gives you the space to soothe and better follow the A.R.E. model at a planned time.

At times you may communicate in the above format and your partner will perceive this interaction as rejection. If this is the case here are some tips to support your relationship.

  • Validate the feelings and experiences of your partner.
  • Show your partner that you love them, think of a quick way to briefly meet their love language (ie: hug/kiss, sit next to them for a minute, get them a cup of tea).
  • Give them a committed time that you will return and be present
  • Allow your partner to join you in your self-care activity (if that allows the activity to remain effective)

Here is an example of such an interaction:

You just got off the phone with your mother and were frustrated by the conversation. You walk into the loungeroom to see your partner who just received bad news themselves.

Partner: “I just got an email that has me really worried!”

You: “I can see by your expression that you are upset. I want to be there for you right now, but I am feeling a bit frustrated after talking to my mother. Let me spend ten minutes on the treadmill and then we can talk about your worries.”

Partner: “Can we talk about it now? I am worried I just lost my job!”

You: “Oh wow, that sounds really worrying! I know that must be really hard to sit with. I want to give you the time to talk about this, and I don’t think I will be very helpful right now.”

You cuddle your partner on the couch and let them put their head on your shoulder.

You: “The time is 5:00, let me quickly jump on the treadmill and de-stress, and I will come back at 5:15 and we can talk about this. How does that sound to you?”

You may have a partner that still sees these interactions as rejection. We must express our boundaries when we need to, and that can at times be challenging for our partner. Remember to remain as attuned to your partner as possible while making sure your boundaries are understood and respected. Empathy is the key here as well as committing to the agreements we have made with your partners.

A great way to support your relationship in creating A.R.E. conversation is to build a commitment around when to say “yes” to these interactions. As previously suggested, there can be times when it is a challenge for one partner to commit to an A.R.E. conversation, and this can leave the other partner feeling rejected and more hurt than before they reached out. If this is a possibility within the interactions with your partner, build a list of factors that need to be present for an A.R.E. conversation to occur. See below for an example:

“I will be present for a moment of A.R.E. when all of the below can be answered with a ‘yes’.”

  • Is it physically safe?
  • Am I in the right headspace to meet this request?
  • Will I feel emotionally safe?
  • Will this conversation meet my time commitment? If not; am I able/willing to shift my schedule to support my partner?
  • Does this violate any existing agreements?
  • Is this a frequent/repeated request? If so; can we create a ritual/agreement around this request, rather than continual A.R.E. requests?
  • Does this violate any of my own core values?
  • Will my partner feel better after this conversation? Could my partner feel worse without this conversation?

When building your own list of factors, here are some questions you can ask your partner:

  • What times do you think you would be unavailable for an A.R.E. conversation?
    • Ie: For an hour after I get home from work.
  • What do you need to feel safe and supported in an A.R.E. conversation?
  • How long are you willing to commit to an A.R.E. conversation?
  • What language (phrases or words) are not supportive of you?
  • How frequently is too much for regular A.R.E. conversations?
  • What agreements do we want to make around our structure of A.R.E. conversations?
  • If one partner is not available for an A.R.E. conversation, what happens next?
  • If one partner requests an A.R.E. conversation when the other partner is unavailable, how much time is needed before this conversation can happen?
  • What happens if one partner breaks an agreement around A.R.E. conversations?
  • Feel free to come up with your own as well.

When building these commitments, it is important to understand that there will be times when you are not able to tick all of your boxes, and so an A.R.E. conversation is not supportive to both members of the relationship. When this occurs that does not mean that the partner saying ‘no’ can walk away. Remember, No is the beginning of a conversation, and having that conversation, even if it isn’t right now, always needs to be a yes.

We saw an example above of what an understanding conversation can look like when A.R.E. is not possible, and these always needs to be a willingness to faithfully, whole-heartedly work on issues when they occur. It is possible to ‘agree to disagree’, but only when both parties understand why the A.R.E. conversation can not happen at that moment.

Bids for Connection

Regardless of your Attachment Style, all humans naturally crave connection with others. As society has evolved, so has how people can gain connection from others. While these sources of connection in the earlier days of humanity would have involved being in physical proximity with someone, we are now able to feel connected by receiving a ‘like’ on our social media posts. With this change also comes challenges, as everyone has a different way of feeling connected, as well as asking for a connection. Love Languages are a good example of this. We all naturally send out bids of connection to those we care about in the hopes that it is reciprocated. Here is a video that explains Bids for Connection well:

When in a relationship with someone, these requests (or bids) for connection can come at an emotional cost. When offered a bid for connection we have three options:

1. Accept

2. Ignore

3. Reject

Here are some examples of each option:

Accept Ignore Reject
You are watching TV with your partner and they let out a loud sigh. You ask your partner “What is the matter?” You ignore your partner and continue watching TV. You say to your partner “Shoosh, I’m trying to watch TV.”
Your partner gets up to get a glass of water and asks if you want one. You say to your partner ‘Yes please’, or ‘No thank you’ with a smile. You say ‘No’ with minimal body language. You say something like ‘I can get it myself.’
Your partner leans in for a kiss. You kiss your partner back. You act like you didn’t see this action. You walk away or say something like ‘Not now’.
Your partner asks you about your day. You tell your partner about your day. Bonus points if you then ask about theirs. You don’t answer your partner and continue with what you are doing. You tell your partner that you don’t want to talk (either ‘to them’, or ‘about it’).

If you can put yourself in the shoes of each partner in these scenarios you can see that each response offers something quite different. When a bid for connection is accepted we naturally feel more connected to our partner. When a bid for connection is ignored or rejected, we will likely feel negative emotions (e.g., undesirable, or not cared about). While this is not so much the case in those with a secure attachment, it can happen to all attachment styles. Our brains will naturally keep score of the bids that are accepted, ignored and rejected. When our tallies are higher in the latter two categories we will start to feel that we don’t matter to our partner, which hinders our connection. The real challenge with this concept is sometimes we will naturally ignore a bit for connection because we don’t even know it happened! No one will meet every bid coming from their partner, and so it is important to address the bids we do notice.

The key to supporting your partner is being aware of potential bids for connection, and meeting these with your partner when they arise. If your partner has offered you a bid that you are unable to meet, you can still acknowledge this bid, offer validation, and clarify why you are unable to meet the bid at this time. When this occurs it is best to make a plan to connect with your partner at a later time and stick with it.

Here are some examples of how each attachment style may offer their quick bids for connection:

Secure Attachment:

  • Romantic gestures
  • Expressing love and gratitude
  • Asking about their partners’ day
  • Acts of service

Insecure-Avoidant Attachment:

  • Making eye contact during long conversations
  • Instigating conversations
    • This could include small talk, “how was your day?”, or deeper conversations
  • Sitting close to you on the couch
  • Engaging in deep conversation (no matter the instigator)
  • Instigating plans (ie: date nights)
  • Texting or talking on the phone for long periods of time

Insecure-Ambivalent Attachment:

  • Creating future plans
  • Surprising you with romantic gestures
  • Talking about the future
  • Physical touch
  • Vocal expressions of love

Disorganized Attachment:

  • Sitting close to you
  • Common eye contact
  • Holding hands
  • Being present (in the most general sense)
  • Asking personal questions

There are also more extensive, deeper bids that can exist. A key element in bids for attention is being there for your partner, and being present while you are there. Here are examples of deeper ways we offer bids for connection with our partners:

  • Being honest and vulnerable.
  • Creating shared meaning (ie: relationship rituals)
  • Sharing our goals/dreams
    • This includes goals for the individual and the couple
  • Sex
  • Empathy
  • Creating and keeping agreements
  • Turning towards our partners
  • A.R.E. conversations

While these lists are by no means extensive, there is an unending amount of different bids for connection. The key to noticing the bids of your partner is to be aware of the intention of their actions. Has your partner done something to instigate a positive action from you? (e.g., conversation, physical touch, playfulness, etc.). If so, no matter how small this action is, this is likely a bid for connection. As said, meeting/validating/acknowledging this action is the key to creating a secure space in your relationship. When we have our bid for connection validated in helps us feel mattered by our partner. This boosts our connection to them and also reminds us of our place in the world. No matter what the attachment style dynamic is in your relationship, everyone desires the feeling of connection with their partner.

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