“When we feel safely connected to others we understand ourselves better and like ourselves more.”
Here is something I heard recently: “People should just be rational and not emotional.” I can’t help but chuckle a bit (and sometimes shake my head in a sign of disapproval 😉 ) when I hear such remarks. They don’t understand that you can be rational and have emotions at the same time (we all do) … nor do they know that there is a great difference between being emotional (simply having emotions; which as humans we all have) and being an emotional basket case. Yes…people that displace their feelings about their own lives, failures and successes onto someone else at the most inappropriate time and for inappropriate reasons…you know what I am talking about. Of course, there are also those who are unable to regulate their emotions (they suffer from emotion dysregulation) but that involves the diagnosis and more importantly a treatment plan. But I digress a little… the real reason why I chuckle is simply put: humans are tribal by nature (we have gone from real tribes to groups such as our families and friends). We need friends and people in our lives just as much as we need food. We are hardwired for belonging and for connections. Humans need connections to thrive. Living in emotional isolation wilts us, it drains us, and clips our most intricate neurological need as human beings…the need to feel attached.
Living in emotional isolation wilts us, it drains us, and clips our most intricate neurological need as human beings…the need to feel attached.
Having connections with someone is very different than having an unhealthy dependency on someone. By connection we mean the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment (Brown, 2012). So as you can see true, strong connections are established when we accept and share feelings and emotions with others, (love, friendship, belonging, trust, etc.). When we are vulnerable.
Unfortunately, there is so much that stands in the way of us truly connecting with others: scarcity (self-doubts), previous experiences, fears, lack of trust, lack of vulnerability, competition, and so much more. All of those gremlins (as Brené Brown calls them) conspire to make us hide our true selves, put on masks and/or armours so that others do not “see” who we really are. Of course, you probably guessed it…those masks interfere with our ability to truly connect with others.
In order to establish true real connections we have to be our own imperfect, authentic selves; being truly authentic (no masks, no lies, no defense mechanisms) means being comfortable expressing our true emotions and feelings including feelings of insecurity, imperfection, etc.
The other side of the coin of connection is, of course, disconnection. Disconnection fuels pain, a sense of worthlessness, shame and more importantly the desire/need to numb the pain. In those instances, unfortunately, we tend to do whatever we can to escape rejection, isolation and powerlessness. The pain of being isolated leads to behaviours that perpetuate isolation (i.e. numbing, pushing people away, criticism, enhance our sense of worthlessness, excessive drinking, etc.) establishing a vicious cycle of disconnection (we feel alone so we do things to make us feel better such as numbing, rationalizing or displacing the feelings of fear and anger onto something or someone which ends up in more disconnection).
Numbing and disconnection is the birthplace of addiction.
Out of those mechanisms numbing is of especial interest. Numbing and disconnection is the birthplace of addiction. So my first question is…when you feel disconnected, do you reach out to people around you or do you numb or withdraw?
Creating self-awareness around connections and authenticity is not a simple task. At some level we all engage in numbing or self-isolating actions. Especially as adults, we have learned and adapted behaviours, (in many cases we have become nothing but those behaviours) to avoid being ‘seen’. But there is always a way to get closer to who we really are. Here are some questions to get you started.
- Do you try to stay crazy-busy most of the time? If the answer is YES, reflect on that and ask yourself, why do you do that? What are you trying not to do instead? What would it look like if you were not so busy? As you reflect try not to rationalize and/or find excuses for yourself. Also, try to be kind to yourself. Your current behaviour might have become your armour or your mask and the real reasons might be outside of you to figure out on your own.
- Do you avoid being by yourself? Think about what you do? What do you think about when you are alone? Do you get trapped in rumination? Do you engage in self-criticism? Is that the reason why you avoid being by yourself?
- Do you try as much as possible not to talk about what you are actually feeling? Do you avoid deep conversations even with those you trust? The most profound connections are established when we are in vulnerability together. Do you avoid those moments for fear of being judged? Do you use self-protecting mechanisms such as sarcasm, humour, perfectionism, etc. to avoid being ‘seen’?
So, this blog started with me saying how much I have learned in the last few years about myself…well, self-disclosure pause here…that second bullet up there…that was me. The interesting thing is that I always blamed my behaviour on my extroversion but the truth is that I was so afraid of not being enough that I never allowed myself to be alone. I was my worst critic. Being with people was my way of stopping my brain from engaging in a deep, relentless analysis of my day, my behaviour and ultimately myself. Of course, as you guessed it…the self-evaluation never yielded positive outcomes. My mask…well…I am still working on that. 😉
The bottom line is that at some point we all put on some kind of mask and if that is what you need to survive in a rough world…then that is fine, just be careful, a) you might end up believing that that is ALL you are…your mask and b) it might stop you from creating the strong connections that you really need. Also, take it off every once in a while, allow people to see you for who you really are.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.