“People are social beings”.
You might have heard of this like a thousand times or more. And you know what? It’s true. We are social beings. We are inherently inclined towards wanting to connect with others. We want to feel like we belong. It’s no coincidence that people who do volunteering work for a cause of their choice report high levels of satisfaction. Volunteering is strongly linked to a sense of purpose. As in, it gives people a sense of purpose, which is a very beneficial thing in terms of structuring time, motivation, drive in the morning, sense of direction in life etc.
However, we are all different, and the same goes for our need for connection. Some of us are more drawn to be with our loved ones for longer, whereas others need less time with people and more time away from them. This antithesis is often expressed through the “introvert-extrovert-ambivert” concepts. Introverts are individuals who seem more comfortable being in their own company and may not engage as much when in the presence of others. Extroverts are the exact opposite: they thrive in situations where they can interact with others and often like to be the certain of attention, either by making jokes, raising their voice or by making big gestures when they talk. Ambiverts tend to blur the lines and bounce in between the two other categories depending on the situation.
Society likes to put labels on pretty much everything as a way to make sense of the world and reduce the anxiety that comes with the unknown. As such, people can be made to feel bad about their different needs when it comes to social interactions. This is a distinct downside of categorizing individuals as introverts or extroverts and it divides, rather than facilitate the understanding of others (and of ourselves). I personally don’t like to use terms like the above, mainly because I don’t find them helpful. They tend to create a “this or that” mentality that is extremely simplistic and therefore does not reflect the complexity of the human nature. Plus, I believe that we are all different levels of everything. Under the right set of circumstances, we can be anything and are capable of everything. Looking at people (and myself) in this way is more inclusive and compassionate. It reflects the empathy that guides my energy as a therapist, and enables me to hold space for my clients where and when they need it.
So, connections... Our need to connect with others and our need for belonging are deeply rooted in all of us and have an evolutionary background. In prehistoric times your survival was more guaranteed if you were connected with others and part of a group, than if you were wondering in the woods on your own. Fast forward to today the echo from our distant past as species is still heard loud and clear. When we connect in a meaningful (or other times less meaningful way) we feel that we are not alone. We reduce our anxiety regarding the unknown. When we feel that we belong, we automatically feel accepted, approved. We feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Taken to the extreme, there are cases where our whole identity is dependent on belonging in a specific group. This is what happens in gangs and cult groups. Most often than not, these groups attract individuals with a very vulnerable sense of identity and lack of purpose. Being part of the gang becomes their identity. It evokes strong reactions from society, it reaffirms that identity and gives them a sense of purpose. Which is why gang members will do anything for their “family”. The gang or cult group, becomes their family, and they are the compliant children.
So far I have explained that we all seek connection to varying degrees and presented some context as to why this is the case. But this is not the end of the story. Some of us may be afraid of connecting with others. When we connect, we enter a social environment where we become vulnerable, because there is an emotional exchange. That leaves us exposed. In this situation, we may need to face parts of ourselves that we have tried to hide for a long time. We open ourselves up to the possibility of getting hurt, which might have happened in the past, and we really don’t want to go through that again. But the truth is, that being vulnerable is the only way we can experience true connection.
Familiar with the term “ghosting”? It is a term that has been coined recently. It represents a rather unpleasant experience and is a common occurrence these days. It refers to the sudden disappearance of a person, without a warning or a reason; like a ghost, he/she vanishes. It tends to happen in more intimate settings where emotions are likely to arise (i.e. true connection). One of the parties withdraws from the exchange without an explanation, leaving the other person hurt and wondering. It is an unhealthy behaviour that has turned into an extremely popular practice because it seemingly gives people the freedom to “tap in and out” of friendships and relationships without a significant cost to themselves. There is a lot that can be said on whether people owe to explain themselves or not, so I won’t take any sides because it depends on the case. However I am a big advocate of communication, which in this case translates as letting the other person know that the relationship is not working for you, rather than just ghosting. I am mindful that any behaviour can cause a reaction, and ghosting being unpleasant and hurtful, can have negative effects because we can “close” ourselves emotionally and become hesitant or reluctant to allowing new connections in our lives.
Social media is booming, and more so during conoravirus, because it allows us to connect as per our basic need, but we can do that from a safe distance. It is a powerful tool, that if used correctly and for what it is (a tool) can really enrich our lives and increase our reach for connecting with others. But it is not a panacea, therefore it cannot replace actual face to face deep connection with others. Nevertheless, social media has helped a lot of us cope with the cruel reality of lockdowns. Before covid we would put off meeting others, but during the moments of loneliness and isolation of the pandemic other people have been our lifeboats. In a weird way, being confined in our homes, has highlighted the importance of spending quality time with those that matter. Which is huge. Because as the whole world came to a standstill, we snapped out of our little bubble and really opened our eyes for the first time in forever…
Connection is essential to our wellbeing and our mental health. Even if we don’t want to connect constantly. Even if we reach our threshold at times. Even if certain people are more energy-demanding that others. Realizing all of this is extremely illuminating, because when we have awareness we can create change. Meaningful connections can be different for everyone but are essential for our health and growth. There are numerous studies that show we have greater life satisfaction when we are surrounded by people we feel emotionally close to. People we can rely on. People that “get us”. People we can laugh our hearts out with. People we can confide our deepest desires and darkest fears to. People that will want to listen, truly listen. People that love us for who we are. People that will hold our hand when we crumble and will scream with excitement when we celebrate a win.
It is very liberating to know that you can be yourself and you will be accepted by those who matter to you. Simply priceless!
In the spirit of honouring the meaningful connections in our lives, I would like to close this post with a little prompt:
Reach out to your VIP people and tell them how important they are to you. Tell them how feel about them being in your life. I guarantee you it will strengthen your connection!