My 6-year old hopped into the car after camp, proclaiming it was the worst day ever 😞. She was on the verge of tears and I could tell she was legitimately upset. This wasn’t the norm for her.
“What’s wrong, munchkin?” I asked.
“I didn’t have any friends to play with today. I was all alone.” She said.
She then went on to tell me how her closest buddies (that she didn’t even know existed up until two weeks ago) were either on vacation, or sick, or weren’t signed up for camp that week. And that she didn’t feel close enough to the rest of the campers, so their company didn’t quiet feel the same. My daughter felt sad, lonely, and left out.
This incident made me reflect upon how important relationships are to us. We all know that connection is a fundamental human need. But how many of us can genuinely say we enjoy deep connections with family and friends?
You’ve probably heard this before in different ways…
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.”
“The foremost pillar of happiness is a sense of belonging and purpose.”
“Cultures that are more communal are more mentally healthy as a whole.”
“People who are alone often die earlier and get sicker before they do.”
We’re a tribal species. There’s no way around this. We’re born through connection and it’s through connection to others that we accomplish almost everything in life. We don’t just prefer healthy relationships, we need them.
A number of fMRI studies over the last decade have illustrated just how significant social experiences are in the brain. They clearly show that social pain activates similar pain networks in the brain as physical pain. (The exact mechanisms are slightly different, but still involve similar regions in the brain).
If connection is so important, why do many of us lack deep, true connection with others?
Here are some possible reasons –
- We don’t understand what connection really is.
In a world that’s digitally driven, likes on posts matter more than a phone call from a friend. Taking to social media with pictures of our favorite meal takes priority over enjoying the meal in the company of our loved ones across the table.
We’ve developed a world designed to create more connection than ever before, yet somehow, much of the digital age has severed connection or fostered inauthentic connection—which does not work.
- Connection requires authenticity and vulnerability – two things we’re taught to hide from a very young age.
Authenticity, and often vulnerability, is required for connection. And yet we’re taught to keep our weaknesses to ourselves, especially when it comes to the workplace. When we only show the strong / happy / better side of our lives, we are only sharing a part of us with the world. In this, we breech connection.
Same goes for when others share their struggles with us, and we look for ways to change the subject because we aren’t comfortable / don’t know what to say / don’t know how to help. In doing so, we prohibit others from being real with us, in turn hurting any chance at forming a real connection.
- When the focus is on receiving connection, not giving it.
To connect with others, we must give them our time, honest feelings, and ideas. Shared experiences and openness are critical. We don’t connect with others by trying to earn approval, awe, compliments, appreciation, envy, or superiority.
- There’s a fear or negative belief at play. Sometimes we’re aware of it. Other times, we’re not.
If you believe that something comes with a risk that isn’t worth taking, you won’t take that risk. Makes sense, right? Same goes for connection and a fear of what could be lost in the process of building it. Fear of possible heartbreak. Fear of rejection. Fear that you’ll be let down because that’s what happened in the past. Or that you might let others down by letting your imperfections be seen. Lack of self-worth. The list goes on…
In all my years of working with people who lacked meaningful connection, almost always the underlying cause came down to a fear, a negative emotion, or a limiting belief. And more often than not, they weren’t even aware of it.
Does any of the above resonate with you? It’s okay if it does. It’s not your fault. It’s subconscious programming that got embedded in you.
But now that you’re aware of it, you can take certain steps to form and develop a thriving sense of connection. Let’s explore a few…
- Social media and the digital age can be an asset if you know how to use it.
People who have authentic connections over social media report having a largely positive view and experience of it. People who use it as a genuine way to stay in touch with others don’t report the same levels of anxiety and depression associated with its use. The reason people try to fake their way into being liked is that they confuse attention for connection—and they are not the same thing.
Reach out to an old friend. Get on a video call with your mom and work through a recipe together. Have your child read their favorite story to their grandparent. Post your anniversary pictures after you are done celebrating with your spouse or partner – until then, give them your undivided attention.
- Know that you’re loveable and worthy – imperfections and all.
There’s strength in vulnerability. Letting people in on your fears and challenges doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong. Because through those conversations you might gain insights that might be exactly what you were looking for. You may feel supported and encouraged, which might be just the boost you needed to take the next step. You may inspire others to be real when you show up as your real self.
You don’t need to be perfect to build connection – you need to be authentic.
- Focus on giving connection. The “receiving” will naturally follow.
Be there for those that matter to you. Carve out time for them and do everything in your power to honor that time. Share your thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences. Ask about theirs’.
You’ll soon see that in the process of restoring a connection with others, you’re also creating a deeper connection with yourself (how’s that for a cool side effect!)
Discover the root cause of why you may be keeping genuine connection at arm’s length…
…then get rid of irrelevant, outdated beliefs that don’t serve you. And replace them with new, empowering beliefs that do.
One of my clients struggled with building deep relationships. She was in her 30s and, simply put, she didn’t have any close friends and had never been in a long-term relationship. When we first met, she was quite certain that the lack of connection in her life stemmed from not fitting in – always too mature for her age, earned a scholarship to go to a private school but never quite bonded with the rich kids, started her own dance studio in her early 20s when everyone else was still jumping from one college major to another. “I’m just different, but I like that” she said.
But her subconscious mind told us otherwise. In her RTT® session with me, we learned that she had several close friends early on in life, but a series of events left her feeling betrayed, hurt, and taken advantage of. The words “I was lied to and that made me feel stupid” came up three times. “I told myself I won’t let that happen ever again”, she added. In those words, was the root cause of why she didn’t have any real, meaningful connection – it wasn’t because she was too different. It was because she believed that close relationships lead to lies, pain, and disappointment. She didn’t want to feel stupid again.
Had we not uncovered the deep, subconscious, underlying beliefs, we wouldn’t have known what needs to change. My client would have continued to live in a conflicted state of mind where she believes being different means you can’t have friends, but she also wants to keep shining bright. Turns out, she can continue being who she is AND have meaningful relationships.
Have you ever wondered which beliefs are at play in your life? Why you do the things you do? I invite you to take some time and explore the workings of your inner mind. My quiz What’s the *ONE* Thing Blocking You from Your Best Life Ever? is an insightful resource that will help you learn more about your particular subconscious blocks. Get to the root cause of what’s blocking connection and reframe any limiting beliefs.
Most people believe a connection is something we earn by being “good enough” when it’s really something we develop by being willing enough.
It is simply our willingness to show up as we are, and our trust that we’ll be taken care of. In being seen and loved for who we are, how we think, and what we feel, we learn it’s okay to be as we are.
It’s our discernment to give our time and energy to those who respect and cherish it back. And, most importantly, it’s the knowledge that even if we do have to go through the fires of life—as all of us do—we come out the other end stronger, clearer, and more ready to appreciate what we have.
Fortunately, in my daughter’s case, she learned to appreciate her friends even more. And since their return to camp didn’t happen for several more weeks, she learned that the social skills that helped her make a few good friends early on in camp could be leveraged again to make more new friends…
…And that’s exactly what she did.