I’ve been having a great time lately with family and friends. I’ve made it a priority in the past few months to focus more on the relationships in my life. Besides having fun, the other dividends I am getting are happiness, less stress and feeling more connected. It’s because your relationships are one of the most important parts of your life – they help you in every other area of your life including your health.
Let’s do a simple experiment that I think shows the impact of relationships in a powerful way. Think back through your life and jot down the names of the three people that have helped you most to become the person you are today. These are some of the relationships that changed the direction of your life.
Now think back about an inspirational conversation you had with one of these people. Think back over the circumstances and remember what that person had to say to you. Many of us can recall almost the exact words spoken in those conversations. Let that support and wisdom sink in once again at this point in your life.
Jot down a few of the feelings that you have about the conversation in your memory. Typically you may feel gratitude, openness, excitement and a sense of possibility. Perhaps you also feel sadness or longing if that person is no longer part of your life. No matter how long ago this relationship and conversation happened, it still has the impact to change your feelings.
This person likely was able to see you in a clear way. They likely listened to who you wanted to be. They also could have been someone who was able to see your strengths and was willing to point them out to you. These are relationships that opened up possibilities for you. Today as you look back at those relationships and conversations, I want you to let yourself feel how much you have changed in sustained ways.
This is the power of healthy relationships. They impact you both in the present and for long periods of time to come. This month’s feature article talks about ways that you can look at your relationships and assess how much they are helping you in four areas that have been scientifically shown to benefit from good relationships.
The world is changing and so is the way we connect with others. Now we touch base virtually with others more than we do in person. Texting, Skyping, emailing, instant messaging and social media posting often take the place of face to face conversation.
In light of this new way of connecting with others, it is smart to understand more about how you as a human need others. Connection with others is at the core of who we are as humans. Disconnection is bad for your emotions and bad for your health. As the pace of the world moves to make it harder to make deep connections with others, it becomes even more important to know how to get more payoff from the personal connections that you do make.
Here is a common belief: You are healthiest and most mature when you can stand on your own, self-regulate your emotions and NOT depend on others. This just isn’t true. Your entire system and the systems of your ancestors for millions of years have been based upon being interdependent with a small band of other people. From ancient times to this day, there is probably nothing more important for your survival and flourishing that your interconnections with other people.
You even need interconnection on a cellular level. For example, your white blood cells have more ability to reduce inflammation in your body when you have regular connection with others. And your brain cells, called neurons, are useless alone; by nature they are social and do not function in isolation. In fact, if a brain cell no longer gets stimulated by other brain cells, it can completely stop functioning. This is the brain’s version of the “use it or lose it” expression.
Here are four ways to assess your relationships to see if you are getting the most benefit from them.
1. Calm. Healthy relationships help you to stay calm. They give you outlets and mechanisms to lower your stress level. You’ve probably noticed that when you get along well with someone, you want to be in communication with them. The more someone feels safe to you, the more you are drawn to interact with them. Relationships that primarily help you stay calm also have room in them for upset ad disagreement. The sense of safety you have established with that person allows you to be angry with the other person without needing to withdraw from them.
Characteristics of Calming relationships:
It’s OK to have differences and even to talk about those differences.
You trust the other person with your feelings and the other person trusts you with his/hers.
The other person treats you with respect.
You can count on this person to help you in an emergency.
You feel safe with this person even when you are in conflict with them.
2. Accepting. Healthy relationships give you a sense of being accepted for who you are. There is very little judgment going on and you know that you can be your true self with this person. And even more, you know you still belong in the relationship even when your true self shows. There’s an absence of loneliness when with this person. The sense of being left out or excluded activates the brain in the same way that physical pain does so it’s crucial that you learn to bridge your differences with those you are in relationship with.
Characteristics of Accepting relationships:
You feel a sense of belonging when you are with this person.
You feel valued by this person.
You treat each other as equals despite having different roles.
It’s OK to have differences and even talk about those differences.
There’s give and take within the relationship.
3. Resonance. Resonance is the ability to put yourself in the other’s shoes – to accurately read their actions, intentions and feelings. In healthy relationships, this happens in both directions. Most people have an incredibly accurate ability to understand the feelings and states of other people. However, often that information stays at the subconscious level and you react without actually connecting with the other person. When there is no resonance, you may assume that the other person feels the way you do without evidence of that being true. Resonance is the ability to make your innate sensing of the other person useful to the relationship rather than it staying hidden. When this happens you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining yourself; you each understand the other.
Characteristics of Resonant relationships:
You can see that your feelings impact the other person.
You are able to sense how the other person feels and vice versa.
You have more clarity about who you are because of this relationship.
You feel that you and this other person “get” each other.
4. Energizing. Good relationships fill you with energy and motivation. They feel rewarding because they activate the dopamine reward center in your brain which increases your sense of pleasure. When you are in a healthy relationship, you have an increased ability to act on behalf of yourself and the relationship. (Be careful of the reverse here – when you are in an unhealthy relationship, you are drained of the ability to take action for yourself because of dopamine depletion.) Simply put, good relationships give you more vitality for life.
Characteristics of Energizing relationships:
Laughter is part of the relationship.
You enjoy the time you spend with this person.
In this relationship, you feel more energetic.
This relationship helps you be more productive in your life.
It’s a valuable exercise to see how each of your major relationships stands in the four assessment areas. Relationships that fall short in several areas may need significant work. That kind of relationship repair can only be done in face to face interaction.
Those relationships that are lacking in just one main area might also benefit from more face to face interaction on a regular basis. Don’t allow yourself to get complacent with your important relationships by allowing them to be “too virtual”.
Questions from Jane
What relationships do you have that would benefit from more face to face interaction?
Do you have several relationships that are lacking in the same area(s)? If so, how can you focus more attention to this area?
How can you make sure you are getting enough in person, true connection in your life?
Living and Watching From The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
How many ways can a statue dream of living? For every time I reach for you, we begin. We begin.
The line between living and watching is very thin. A moment’s rest or pause for reflection can spread into a thickness of hesitation, and the next thing we know, reaching out or saying something or picking up the phone or stopping in unannounced is difficult, as if there is suddenly some huge wall to climb just to be heard.
This is how we isolate ourselves, digging moments of healthy solitude into holes in the yard, and, of course, the dirt we dig and pile up becomes a small mountain that separates us from everyone we love. We all know how not phoning that friend because we were busy, if allowed to go too far, turns into a vastness that seems impossible to cross. The truth is that the phone is the same six inches from our hands as it has always been. The challenge is to remember this when everything seems so far away.
To feel isolated is part of the human journey. But when we obey the feelings of hesitation and separation more powerfully than those of love, we start to experience numbness and depression. This is when we start to live like statues, believing that all we can do is watch.
Hard as it feels, it is just at this moment that we are must break back into living by reaching for anything, no matter how small or close. If it is fall, rub a leaf across your face. If winter, break a piece of ice. If spring, touch a small flower.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.