There is very little in life (if anything) more important to us than our relationships. How connected we feel to others is a strong predictor of our happiness and our feelings of self-worth. From a neurobiological standpoint, we are wired for connection. Our deeply connected relationships can ultimately give us true meaning and purpose.
But, if we’re feeling disconnected, alone, and segregated from those around us, how can we become more connected? Why does it seem so easy for some to create deep connections while it’s hard for others?
My Struggle for Connection
My struggle for connection came after I broke up with my then-girlfriend in undergrad. Without that deep connection that I had once shared with her, I realized that my other relationships were pretty shallow. I didn’t have anyone in whom I could confide. There wasn’t anyone to whom I could reveal my true self. As a result, I had never felt more alone.
At the same time, I was surrounded by people. By “friends.” I had cultivated many relationships, but somehow none of them were truly genuine.
As I struggled with my loneliness, I realized that my lack of connection stemmed from my unwillingness to be vulnerable. I had an intense fear of being rejected, or of being seen as unworthy; unworthy of love, and unworthy of belonging. As a result, I would change myself to fit the situation and person or group I was with. I would hide parts of myself I felt were controversial or might be frowned upon in some way. I was desperately seeking connection by changing myself to be closer to others without being rejected, but as a result I was feeling less connected than ever.
In short, what it boiled down to was that I was ashamed of being myself, because I didn’t feel that “myself” was good enough.
It took a long time (more than a year) for me to work through my feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth. Through that, I learned many things about connecting with people in a deep and meaningful way.
I learned to tell everyone who I really was at all times, and with all of my heart. It took a considerable amount of courage to do this. I wasn’t able to be friends with everyone as a result, but the relationships I did create through this were so much more fulfilling. Sure, I felt silly at times, and sometimes I felt rejected by people. But, I also felt honest, and proud of being true to myself.
Be imperfect! Your imperfections are what make you beautiful and interesting!
I had to learn to be kind to myself. You absolutely must learn to show yourself compassion before you can truly be compassionate to others. I had to stop putting aspects of myself down. I had to stop believing that certain parts of me were unworthy of being loved. In general, I had to truly believe that I was worthy of love and belonging.
I allowed myself to make mistakes. I allowed myself to take care of my own needs. I started treating myself how I believed everyone should be treated.
3) Be vulnerable
I had to fully embrace vulnerability. I cultivated an awareness of my fear of vulnerability, including when I would run from it, and instead forced myself to face my fear. I invested in relationships even though there were no guarantees. I showed when I was hurt. I told people how I felt, regardless of how it would be perceived. I opened myself up to the possibility of rejection and thus became truly vulnerable.
Opening up to vulnerability was very difficult, and like I already said this process took a long time. Try and be aware of when you run from vulnerability and push through it. In the long run, you will be so glad that you did.
Vulnerability isn’t just essential for creating deep and lasting connections with people, it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, and a sense of belonging and of love.
The willingness to be completely vulnerable is necessary to feel worthy. If you’re not vulnerable, and you never put your true self out there, you will never know that you are worthy, and we are all worthy.
4) Don’t numb emotions
I was lucky enough not to do this, but I’ve learned (and there is lots of psychology research to back this up) that we cannot selectively numb emotions. You can’t say, “I don’t want to feel anger or jealousy or vulnerability. Let’s leave those out, and I’ll just take a dose of happiness instead.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. If you try to numb the negative emotions, you end up numbing everything.
If you numb everything, you no longer feel happiness, joy, or love.
5) Vulnerability is NOT weakness
Our willingness and ability to be vulnerable, to put ourselves in a state of emotional risk, exposure, and uncertainty, is our most accurate measurement of courage. It is absolutely not weak to expose yourself.
Show me a man or a woman who tells someone, “I love you,” for the first time, without any certainty of reciprocation, and you will have shown me one of the most courageous human beings in the world.
If we want to connect with people, we absolutely have to get over this idea that being vulnerable is synonymous with being weak. This also ties back into compassion – we must be compassionate to those who show us vulnerability. Do not judge them, or make them feel weak for having done so. Look upon them as the truly courageous person that they are, and applaud them for that.
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I always struggle with giving this type of advice because it’s extremely daunting to look at. How is one supposed to actually accomplish any of this?!? The first thing I can say is this: you don’t have to do it by yourself. For some of us, this might be our first lesson in being vulnerable: ask for help! See a therapist or counsellor who deals specifically with overcoming vulnerability and shame.
The second piece of advice I can give is to become more self-aware. Monitor your feelings throughout the day. Keeping a journal could help. When you feel vulnerable, or when you avoid vulnerability, make a note. Work towards pushing through one of those moments. If you can do it once, you can certainly do it again. And if I can push through it, I have no doubt that you can too.
If you want to feel truly connected, and if you want to feel worthy, you need to give people a chance to see the real you. And I mean all of you. You are all worthy of that sort of deep connection, and through vulnerability you will find it. Best of luck to you all!