What makes us truly human? Is it our opposable thumbs, language, or our ability to connect with one another? Dr. Leanh Nguyen believes that psychotherapy can offer us a useful tool for connecting with ourselves and our humanity: tenderness. Starting a podcast called “On Living: The Trauma and Beauty of Being Human”, Dr. Leanh Nguyen makes an impassioned argument for kindness and tenderness in our daily lives and shares some of her best insights into why healing starts and ends with tenderness.
The Importance of Tenderness
Dr. Leanh Nguyen was born in war-torn Vietnam, escaped to Europe as a refugee of Communism, and then emigrated to the United States for her higher education. She brings to her work all that this range of life experiences have taught her, one such lesson is that of kindness. She brings to her work a passionate conviction that every life is worth cherishing, every mind is worth knowing, and every being is worth loving. In her work with trauma victims, Dr. Leanh Nguyen has learned that it is the bridge and connection to others that helps to heal her patients. After a traumatic loss, it is our ability to connect with another human being that separates the true survivors from those who merely stay alive. When we think about what human infants need to survive, it is the sense of touch, smell, and sound that allow them to thrive as individuals. And yet, we lose this sense of connection as we grow older and apart.
It’s a Small World
Dr. Leanh Nguyen met a Vietnamese woman in Paris who was in the same refugee camp as her as a child. Known for being the sole survivor on her boat, this woman swam for four straight days on the open sea and was eventually rescued. When Dr. Leanh Nguyen asked her how she did it, the woman explained that the mere thought of her mother kept her motivated to survive. When Dr. Leanh Nguyen met a woman named Carla, a recent asylum seeker from Honduras, she spoke to her about her journey and the violence she witnessed in her homeland. When Dr. Leanh Nguyen asked her, what sustained her throughout her long and enduring hardship, she explained that it was the kindness of the Mexican guards. Despite these two women being from opposite sides of the world, they both shared a similar story of being able to survive terrible conditions through the kindness of others.
Compassion Begets Compassion
To be tender is to accept the responsibility that we have to the other human beings in front of us. Different cultures have different beliefs about how important social connection and interdependence are to our lives. In the West, we like to think of ourselves as independent, and do not place a high emphasis on tenderness, connectedness and compassion. However, it has been seen throughout history that being compassionate leads to others being compassionate in return. Across the study of mammals, data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.
Dr. Leanh Nguyen believes that tenderness requires a degree of vulnerability and recognition. Moving towards a compassionate and connected society, she believes we need to extend tenderness to others in order to become whole as individuals.