There are many reasons for feeling disconnected from one another, reasons that many seek to understand in psychotherapy. There may have been trauma in the past, be it in childhood or adulthood, leaving you too scared to stick out your head and risk to be injured again. Even when you have merely learned that revealing your true thoughts and feelings is somehow “wrong” and uncomfortable, you may shy away from connecting with others.
As research suggests, it is well worth our time to explore the negative events of our past. Positive events should be left unexamined to avoid overthinking and putting distance between ourselves and our precious positive experiences. But such distance brings a new persepective when it comes to negative events. Not only do we find relief when we share something “dark” with a compassionate listener. We also find confidence, clarity and resolve.
On the other hand, you might find it difficult to connect because you try too hard. Codependency and “people who love too much” come to mind. Somehow you might have picked up that focusing on others while overlooking yourself works best. For example, when a child only gets attentention when she takes care of a parent, she might become a people pleaser or an overly eager partner. Eventually she might simply forget about her own feelings and needs. This type of forgetting comes with a big price tag. We probably end up projecting our needs while feeling compelled to fulfill them in others, which, in reality, cannot be done. The price of this impossible task is exhaustion which often manifests as resentment or depression.
When we are on our own, seeing such projections is difficult; stopping them even more so. It can be one of the most powerful events in our lives when we see our own needs clearly in therapy. I can attest that the discovery of my own needs was the birth of my true individuality, which, ironically, led to true togetherness. I came to life the moment I could relate to my own self in a positive way. As I felt myself, I could relate to another person with an open, receptive heart, allowing for a healthy flow of give-and-take. I began to feel more connected than ever before.
Relating to our own selves and doing so compassionately also entails the setting of healthy boundaries. When we are more in touch with other people’s needs than with our own, the other can take us over as an alien does with a host in a science fiction story. No real human intimacy can come about when we are taken advantage of because authentic relationships depend on reciprocity. Learning to self-care includes the practice of saying “No.” While New Age gurus propose that we need to say incessantly “Yes” to everything, good psychotherapists explore the option of “No” and “Yes.” As we learn to say “No” to a taker or someone who inadvertently asks too much of us in a given moment, we learn to say “Yes” to ourselves. We need to experience that we matter. Only those who feel their lives matter are receptive enough to connect with others for the sake of mutual empowerment.
Sometimes psychotherapy does not uncover trauma, discomfort or a lack of self-compassion, but there is still terrible loneliness or endless fighting. Relationships with a seemingly good foundation still end up in divorce and disaster when the couple is unable to communicate properly. Many of us copy our parents’ communication style which may be inadequate for modern relationships. The truth of the matter is that relationships today are much more complex than they have ever been and that the demands on the partners are very high. We have become accustomed to complaints and derogatory jokes about men and women coming from different planets. “She just doesn’t understand,” “He cannot listen and tries to solve my problems instead,’ “We don’t have any fun anymore,” “I don’t feel seen or appreciated,” “Where is the romance?” It takes a rocket scientist to build a good connection these days. Or an open-hearted client conspiring with an open-hearted psychotherapist.
Psychotherapists are in a supreme position to teach the “How” of building connections as connecting is what we do within a therapeutic relationship. Couples therapy is a viable option. Often it does not take long to teach pertinent “building blocks” of connections, as I like to call them. While we are too close to our own problem and misjudge the importance of a small, but essential component, a therapist can point out and start practicing immediately the skill that is missing. Active listening and validation are learned skills. Learning how and when to express ourselves can rekindle a failing relationship. A therapist with an open mind is ready and prepared to offer knowledge, to train and help practice.
In the end, we may just realize that it takes two to tango and that our partner hates to dance. Sometimes there is nothing we can do as the problem lies outside of our own control. To acknowledge an impasse may desolve the impasse or initiate an exit. When we are supported and challenged to be the best person we can be, we can heal faster. With a set of new skills, we can also find a new beginning a lot sooner than we might fear.