Monday I told you the story of why connection matters so much to me – how it took a long time for me to find it, and why it was so transformative for me when I finally did.
But connection isn’t easy, and so before I go on to give some ideas for how we can get to connection (tune in on Friday), I want to take a bit of time to talk about the things that hold us back and stand in the way of us choosing connection. Because these things are very real, and can be very effective at keeping us from the connection we so deeply need.
I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself, and for many of those I have worked with over the years, our reticence to connect often comes down to either one of two messages or a simple reality.
First the messages:
1. Feelings of Inadequacy
Many of us carry around inside of us the idea that fundamentally we’re not worth very much. Through family, classmates, teachers, religious institutions or society at large we have come to view ourselves as inadequate – accepting at face value the idea that we have little to offer and much to be ashamed of. We worry that if we were ever to connect deeply with another person than the best we could expect would be judgement.
These feelings of inadequacy make us reticent to connect with others because we (incorrectly) believe that we have nothing to contribute to the relationship and that others are better off without us.
Often there is something in particular about us that we come to view as fundamentally flawed – our gender or sexuality; our relationship status or the frequency that changes; our job and income level or lack thereof; or some secret shame that we’ve hidden for as long as we can remember.
These feelings of inadequacy might hit us all at once through a traumatic incident, but more often than not it is the drip-drip-drip of “not enough” that becomes a chorus of deafening proportions, defining and constraining our responses to even the most simple of opportunities to connect.
And in case all of that isn’t enough, we are often equally hampered by message number two:
2. Lack of Trust
When we have grown up with chaotic, undependable or distant relationships, then it can be very difficult for us to trust that those around us will do what they say they will do.
We learn that we have to be strong and independent if we’re going to make it in this world, and connection can feel too much like dependence and cause us to feel like we are at risk of being let down or betrayed.
Like a weed-infested garden, promises broken seem to grow faster and stronger in our lives than promises fulfilled ever did, until we either decide that weeds are all we were ever good for – so we will only create tenuous, trust-less connections – or we decide that gardens are for old fools and give up on connection entirely.
Either way, without trust we will find ourselves with no relational resources to begin a new connection or to repair one that has become damaged.
Without a framework for trust we will be left assuming the worst of the other, missing out on and misinterpreting their bids for closeness, care and affection.
Without a context for trust we will find ourselves unable to take the risks necessary – to put ourselves out there, to show up, to do the work needed – to be able to achieve deep connection.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I think we came up with these walls for really good reasons. Most of us – myself included – started our wall-building careers back when we were very small and the world was hard or mean or terrifying or all of the above. Our walls were self-defence mechanisms and coping strategies that got us through and allowed us to survive.
But the problem is that surviving isn’t the same as thriving. And the very tools we used to get through can – in the long run – sabotage our relationships and even our health, since it turns out that connection is one of the keys for lowering our stress levels and the resulting health conditions that go along with chronic stress (for more on this see The Deepest Well or When the Body Says No).
And ironically enough, the research suggests that the only way to get past these walls is through connection.
According to Brené Brown, the only way through inadequacy and shame is through vulnerability.
So if we want to get past our messages we may actually have to lean in to the very connection that we fear. (It’s fine if you don’t know how yet – I promise, we’ll get there on Friday!)
But what about the reality I mentioned above?
Too Much On Our Plates
The reality is that whether we’re dealing with mental health issues or physical limitations – whether we’re over-scheduled because of the kids or work or our commute – many of us these days feel overwhelmed already by everything we’re trying to do, and the thought of trying to add one more thing to an already full life seems daunting, intimidating, and sometimes down-right impossible.
The reality is that we are encouraged to be busy – lauded for our exhaustion – held up and celebrated for our multi-tasking – and sometimes simply slaves to our debts and commitments in ways that leave it difficult for us to shift gears or make space.
And the reality is that we tend to see connections’ costs without realizing connections’ benefits.
But when we start to make time for connection it gives back in ways we would never have expected. It improves our mental health, making it easier to get through our days. It improves our circle of support, making it easier to cope with the unexpected. And it improves our physical health – including our ability to fight off infections, heart disease and even cancer – as it lowers our stress hormones like cortisol, replacing them with mood-stabilizing, healing hormones, like oxytocin.
So with all that in mind, I encourage you to come back Friday for some simple steps that you can use to begin to connect with those around you.