On & Off Campus Blog

Learning to be
Learning to be
By Lindsay Jernigan, Ph.D. ‘91


My days at BB&N were spent becoming. Like most adolescents, I was doing the hard work of discovering who I was. Adolescents look to their peers as a reference during this process. Who am I like? Who am I not like? Who do I want to emulate? And because we are social creatures whose survival depends on pack inclusion, adolescents are not only asking who am I, but also who do I need to be to be accepted? This isn't driven by vanity, but by a deeply felt need for the safety that comes from being loved and included. Fitting into the pack and keeping our pack mates comfortable in our presence helps ensure our survival. 

As a psychologist, now, working with adults in individual and couples therapy in Vermont, I witness every day how the developmental challenge changes with age. As adults, the task is no longer to become, it is to be; to be authentically ourselves, and stay true to ourselves while being in relationships with others. We enter our adult relationships with lots of practice at being who we think others need us to be. Adolescence is a long road, after all. But in adulthood, this pattern stops being adaptive, and starts arresting development. When we change, silence or shrink ourselves in the name of being who think we need to be for acceptance, or in the name of keeping our partners comfortable, we are left with a relationship that lacks joy and depth. Resentment replaces intimacy. And effort replaces ease. 

Couples come into my office every day reporting a drop in emotional and physical intimacy despite their loving intensions to be good partners. And here's the kicker. It is often their good intensions that have led them astray. Swallowing anger to keep the peace, giving up hobbies to help out at home, not asking for help, hiding tears... in a million little daily ways, and with the best of intensions, we bring ourselves less and less authentically to the table. And there's no such thing as intimacy if we aren't really showing up.  We often crave intimacy, but we forget to show up for it.

Real intimacy isn't always pretty, and it sure isn't always easy. But it is vibrant, and rich, and full of potential. When we risk showing up as we are rather than as who we think we need to be, we make room to grow again. Sensuality wakes up, playfulness returns, and new spiritual and emotional depths emerge. I am working with couples to help them learn to be... to be together as their true differentiated selves, so that each individual, as well as the union, can thrive.

This November, Dr. Jernigan will be offering Whole Partnership, a comprehensive couples retreat at Topnotch Resort and Spa in Stowe, Vermont. 

To learn more about this retreat and Dr. Jernigan's message and mission, please visit www.DrLindsayJernigan.com, and on Instragram @dr.lindsayjernigan.