I realized recently that I usually start out telling you about the weather in the first paragraph of my blogs and then asked myself: “Why do I do that?” Do they care? Isn’t there an app for that? I rationalized it away by affirming that my mood – and my writing – is often related to the weather. The weather also drives the day’s activities as well. Cold and rainy? Books and pajamas. Mild temps and partly-sunny? Hiking or a road trip. Hot as hell and humid AF? Planted somewhere near a large body of water. Today is really no exception. It’s a chilly day here in the Ozarks and I’m working to the tunes of Carole King in the background. I’m still not convinced that winter might settle in, but it is definitely windy enough to prepare a bug-out bag (that’s tornado talk) or fly a kite if that’s your thing.
About this time last year, I wrote about “connection” and how we were all starting to feel the months of isolation due to the ‘VID. I hope we are coming out of that a bit, even with this latest surge and a new variant, but I wondered over coffee this morning: Did the last twenty months ruin us for life? Even me, the INTJ / Type 5, canceled my number one way of keeping up with people. Have I become even more anti-social than I already am? Or…did I just become pickier about who I let into my life? Someone asked me why I axed my primary Facebook account and I told them to read my blog post (Shameless, right?) but truthfully it all comes down to one truth…
People can’t ruin what they don’t know about.
Most of those ‘friends’ don’t know me anyway. Some only saw a foul-mouth typist with a cynical sense of humor. No one invited me to have coffee so they could learn how much I love to help my son’s school or the many ways I participate in making my community better. No one really asked what breaks my heart about the world we live in and what gets me excited. Some judged me for not being a Christian – because of my little-to-the-left viewpoints. Truth is? I’m a huge fan of Jesus Christ. It’s just His followers that get on my nerves. Yes, it’s true. I love Jesus…and I cuss a lot…and voted for one or two Democrats in my life – although I’m intrigued by Libertarians. I know, right? I am an enigma.
So here we are today, together, while I pose the question: How do we get the connection we need in a world that is so disconnected from reality? We are the most connected generation ever – what with our Tweets and Likes, and Tiks and Snaps. So, Dear Reader, why are so many people lonely? Hmmm. Grab a drink and settle in. Let’s discuss how we might be and feel more connected to others.
Connection is so powerful. It’s more than just being part of a group. It’s about belonging and feeling as if your presence matters in the grand scheme of things. We can think we are connected when, in reality, we are simply a member of a group. You can be in a room full of people and still be lonely. Just as you can be part of several groups or part of a big family unit and not feel connected to another soul.
For those like me – the self-sufficient do-it-myselfers – it just so happens that connection is more important than you might think. Connection can lower anxiety and depression, help regulate emotions, improve self-esteem and increase empathy for others. Several studies show that feeling a sense of connection can even strengthen our immune systems. In this day and age, we applaud self-sufficiency while we view the seeking of closeness as weak. Neglecting our need to connect actually puts our health at risk. In other words, we are hard-wired for connection despite our Myers-Briggs personality type, Sun/Moon/Rising signs, and whatever else label you’ve attached to yourself.
I’m not great at reaching out to others, but I’m getting better. I, like everyone, am a work in progress. But here are some things I’ve done to improve connections with others, and I hope they help you:
- Recognize connection needs vary. Everyone has their own sensitivities to feeling a connection or lack thereof. For example, I don’t need to spend a lot of time with people to feel connected, but I do like it when people remember little things about me (Milk Duds are my favorite snack, Skrewball is my favorite whiskey, May is a shitty month for me, I don’t like loud people, places, or events, etc.). Because of my own experience and needs, I tend to pick up on the little details about others. I have a shitty short-term memory, but there are things I remember: Cardamom is your favorite spice. You don’t like pumpkin pie. Mother’s Circus Animal Cookies are your favorite cookies. Those god-awful Cherry Mashes are, to you, delicious. I may not remember your birthday, but I do know that your spouse died on Labor Day weekend and it’s a tough holiday for you. Other people might find that creepy, so I try to be mindful of this. I realize it could be construed as stalkerish, but really, it’s just the way I connect with others. What do you need to feel connected? A handwritten note? A text in the morning? My son’s? I always say “Who loves you, baby?” as I send him off to school When I forget, he reminds me. I think this is one of the ways he feels a connection to me.
- Learn to be present in conversations. It has been said that attention is oxygen for relationships. When meeting with people, get in the habit of being present by giving them your full attention. It’s funny what people will tell you when they don’t tell you anything. I have a good friend who is witty and extroverted and just an all-around fun guy. When he speaks to me about his life, I can always tell when we hit on something that hurts. He’ll look down and shrug – and with a soft smile – say, “But whatcha gonna do?” Suppose you listen carefully, observing facial expressions and body cues. People will often “tell” you when they are hurting with their “tells”. In those moments, I beg you: Don’t break the connection by checking your phone, looking around the room, or letting your mind wander. In fact, a squeeze of a hand means more at that moment than any words you could voice.
- Learn to show some fucking empathy. Mutual empathy is a robust connector made possible by mirror neurons in our brains. Mirror neurons act like an emotional Wi-Fi system. When we feel the emotions of others, it makes them feel connected to us. When we feel their positive emotion, it enhances positive feelings. When we feel their pain, it diminishes the pain they feel. If someone expresses emotion, it’s OK and natural for you to feel it too. However, like in this Ted Talk by Celeste Headlee, resist the urge to ‘share your story’ at that moment because it kinda feels like a ‘one upper’. Don’t you just hate it when you’ve bared your soul and they turn around and try to “one up” you? Ugh. Stupid, stupid person.
- Develop the habit of emphasizing positives. Psychologist John Gottman first observed that marriages were less likely to survive when the positive/negative interactions dipped below 5-to-1 (or five positive interactions to every negative interaction). People need affirmation and recognition, so get in the habit of looking for ways to affirm and serve others.
- Learn and apply the five languages of appreciation. Some know these a ‘love languages’ but that seems a bit weird in a work setting. The thing is, though, everyone responds to their love language, no matter where you are. I used to be a “words of affirmation” and “acts of service” kind of gal. But as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to affirm myself, so affirmation from others isn’t quite as important now. In fact, if someone tries to ‘cheerlead’ me now I get pissed. Who appointed you Pep Club President? I certainly do not need a Pep Club President so back off, Jack. However, surprisingly for an aspiring minimalist, I have realized that gifts (simple ones – not $8,000 diamond rings – although…ahem) tend to increase my sense of connection. My friend Carol always has Milk Duds or Salted Caramel Chocolate bars for me along with a list of new book recommendations. Jay sends me cookies. Machell and Bonnie give me wine. (I’m sensing a theme here). Dedee once gave me, literally, a pot to piss in (another time, another story). The point? They get me – and that’s how connections are formed.
So, what about you? Are you feeling a loss of connection? What makes you feel connected with others? How do you show others you want/need connection? Please drop a comment or two. I love to hear from you. Until next time…here’s your song.
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