How To Connect: Beat Loneliness!
The world seems to be increasingly talking about the importance of connection. Connection in marriage. Connection in romantic relationships. Connection in our families. Connection in our friendships and within our community. Even connection within organizations such as a business or church.
Why is there such an emphasis on connection? Heck, what does connection in the context we are talking about even mean? Most importantly, what does the process of connection even look like?
We have multiple social media tools that are designed to help us connect. Yet, more and more people are disconnected now more than ever. Loneliness and isolation is pervasive. Even those who have the physical presence of people in their life talk about feeling alone.
The reality is that even with all of our modern day resources we are still dis-connected from ourselves and others. Being disconnected combined with human beings’ fundamental need to belong to a family, group, or a tribe is why there is so much talk about connection.
Connection is essential to survival. There is overwhelming research pointing to severe physical and mental health risks associated with disconnection. In fact, researchers have found that loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.
Now that we know how important connection is we need to know how to connect. Do we just hang out with others and connection automatically happens? The answer is no because even those with people near by can still feel lonely. Is it some kind of magic that only a few people know how to do? No. In fact, connection is something we can all learn how to do. The problem is that the process of connecting is not something most of us learned how to do in our families, schools, or anywhere else in our lives. If you are brave and take risks you too can learn how to connect and beat loneliness.
I believe one way to describe what it means to be connected is the process of being real and authentic with the true you. Do you see why it calls for courage and a willingness to take risks? Being vulnerable with who you are (what you feel, think, believe, and need) and sharing your true self with another human being is how the process of connection occurs.
A more detailed, step-by-step process to achieve connection is to:
The first step is to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and needs. This requires self-awareness. For some of you self-awareness comes easily. You don’t have difficulty identifying what is happening inside of you.
Others of you, however, really struggle with knowing what is going on internally. You might be more in touch with your thoughts and beliefs but identifying your feelings and needs leaves you dumbfounded and clueless. If this is you, your challenge will be in increasing your emotional self-awareness. A couple of tips to do this is to start an “emotions journal” using a tool such as an “emotions wheel” which can be easily found online. You can also invite a close friend who has greater self-awareness to gently point out to you when they see that you might be experiencing emotion or that most people would be experiencing emotion if they had just went through what you did.
If you really struggle with self-awareness and have even tried ways to increase your access to yourself with no avail perhaps consider meeting with an Emotionally Focused Therapist or a Trauma Therapist who can help you discover and unlock the reasons why connecting to yourself is so difficult. Sometimes it could be a traumatic past experience or something less sinister such as growing up in a family culture where emotions and vulnerability were frowned upon.
The second step is to accept what you are feeling, thinking, believing, and needing. I want to clarify that there are times when we need to think about our thinking and to question ourselves. I am not advocating blind acceptance. What I am advocating, though, is that once you have taken the time to acknowledge/identify what is happening inside of you practicing acceptance, especially of your feelings, is vital if you are to experience true connection with others.
The reason acceptance of our feelings is vital is that we often tend to minimize or dismiss what we are feeling as unimportant and illogical. Feelings are not illogical. In fact, in the same way a computer generates a warning signal that there is a potential issue with its operating system and functioning, feelings are indicators that can help us in the process of connection.
Vulnerably sharing feelings, especially such as sadness, fear, loneliness, and even joy is how we connect to others. The process of sharing with safe people activates a process that brain researchers have called “mirror neurons.” Mirror neurons help us to connect in that they allow us to enter into the experience, or empathize, with another. When someone is crying or laughing our mirror neurons help us to connect as we feel the sadness or joy that person is experiencing.
The third and final step in the process of connection is to ask. Once you have acknowledged what you are feeling, accepted that feelings make sense and that your emotions are okay, the art of asking for what you need crystallizes the process of connection. The reason for this is that feelings have needs. For example:
When I feel…………………..I may need
Practicing the courage of experiencing your emotions and taking the risk of sharing them along with what you need from someone else is how connection happens and loneliness is beat. Face it, you are needy. But that’s okay because so am I. In fact, we all have relational needs that can only be met when we acknowledge our feelings and neediness, accept that we are okay, and vulnerably ask others.
If you would like to increase your self-awareness and ability to connect with others please call one of our Scottsdale or Phoenix offices to learn more on how counseling can help. Call Crossroads Counseling at 623-680-3486.