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 payoffs 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 then systems of your ancestors for millions of years has 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”.
What relationships do you have that would benefit from more face to face interaction? How can you make sure you are getting enough in person, true connection in your life? We’d love to hear from you about your relationships and how you fit real connection into your busy life; just leave us a comment below.