For many years I did not believe charisma was something I could cultivate – and I think I have been wrong about that all along. When it comes to charisma, that seemingly elusive quality only possessed by A-list movie stars, rock stars and perhaps some world leaders, charisma is something I have never felt I innately possess.
As a clinical social worker in private practice where I work with people who suffer from anxiety that is sometimes debilitating, I interact with individuals, couples and groups all day long. I am an introvert on the far end of the spectrum according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. If you know anything about introverts, you know that we love our alone time. Fellow introverts will understand how the greatest battery charge often comes from staying at home with a pile of books, never venturing into the world where one must engage in silly activities like “having a conversation” and saying “hello” to strangers. Although I am being lighthearted about my own experience, I have a deep sense of appreciation for how I can attend to daily activities in public without the paralyzing experience of social anxiety that is endured by some of the heroic individuals I sit with in my practice. My initial motivation for exploring mindfulness was to simply enhance my own sense of wellbeing, balance and connection to my sense of self. A surprising side effect to this journey has been how my capacity to connect with others has increased as well.
Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth, speaks of charisma being made up of three factors – presence, power and warmth. I’m going to talk about the first and last of these since I am finding them most relevant to my experience as a psychotherapist and most importantly, a human being who seeks the connection to others we all desire at the core of who we really are.
If you know anything about mindfulness then you know that accessing, establishing, and increasing presence is one of the objectives of the practice. How might that impact our aptitude for having charisma, you might ask? Think about the people who you have observed to be highly charismatic – those A-list movie stars I mentioned earlier perhaps. Now, think about the people you have met in person who have those same attributes. Have you noticed anything about those interactions? Do you notice his or her capacity to be acutely present to you when they are with you? Does this individual have the capacity to make you feel like the most important person on the planet? If you have ever had this experience with someone, you know that it feels good! We feel acknowledged and that we truly have value.
The second element, one’s capacity for warmth is in my experience another feature of mindfulness practice. In a therapeutic modality called Hakomi, which is a mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy which heavily informs my work as a therapist, practitioners are taught to establish something called “loving presence.” In establishing loving presence, a deep connection between the clinician and client is founded. It creates a safe place for the client to explore distressing emotional material – the hard stuff, so to speak. One might very confidently maintain that this “space” must be filled with warmth in order for the therapeutic process to unfold in the most expansive way thus laying a wide path leading to the healing process for the individual.
How do these things directly relate to my understanding and experience of charisma? With each day that I am able to be acutely present to another, where I am able to convey the warmth budding from the roots of my deepest desire for the person or people sitting with me to experience wellness in its fullest, I have noticed that people connect with me more deeply. I wasn’t born with a natural capacity for charisma, I am certainly not an A-list star, a rock star nor do I ever intend to be a world leader. However, the notion that a practice like mindfulness can up the quality of my interactions with every person I meet and can make their experience of me more appealing is nothing short of a gift…and an unexpected game changer for how I experience the world and the world experiences me.
Love and light to all!