Welcome to my consulting website, CONNECT. GROW.THRIVE. There is nothing greater than truly feeling loved, understood, and appreciated by another. Loving and being loved is what gives our lives meaning- tough, gritty, love. Yet, we are living in times where there has been a growing sense of isolation that has been defined as a loneliness epidemic. If we can better understand what creates meaningful connection and what creates disconnection, perhaps we can take steps to build and grow our relationships with greater intention and fulfillment.
I have created this platform to contribute and offer resource, guidance and support. Having worked with couples, families, and teams for over 38 years, I see building meaningful relationships in context within the culture. Post-pandemic, where we literally learned to turn away and socially distance ourselves from others for safety protocol and protection, we now need to rebuild our relational skills and energies to turn toward in order to build more loving and meaningful connections with others. In this article, I address caring and connection within our self, in the most intimate of relationships, in the workplace and within our community.
What defines meaningful human connection?
Meaningful connection can range in many ways depending on personality style, introversion or extroversion, sensibilities, and need. Overall, it is a way to experience closeness and belonging, a sense of feeling seen and heard as well as appreciated and emotionally safe. It occurs in different ways, fleeting moments with strangers where one reaches out, helps another, and engages in spontaneous conversation.
We connect deeply with family, friends, and work teams through engagement, heartfelt, emotional intimate conversations, sharing, memorable experiences. Many opportunities are afforded to connect every day creating richness and depth.
“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”Brené Brown
Are we really hard-wired to connect?
Humans have a natural reflex to come together, especially in a crisis. The reward of being together with others we trust increases resilience and strength,, mental, spiritual, and physical health.
Why is it important?
Forming deeper connections contribute to feeling good. Finding a “tribe” or group one can relate to increases our overall sense of mental and physical health and well-being. Including play and humor is conducive to a decrease in anxiety and depression. We numb, “wall up”, or get sick without a sense of love and belonging.
What contributes to disconnection?
Basically any breakdown in trust, commitment or safety within the relationship can result in disconnection. The obvious results of abuse, trauma, or aggressive turning against a person to more subtle forms of turning away breaks down connection. Here are a few contributions:
Difference in personality, attachment style and background create challenge.
Introversion, extroversion, and the way we are “in the world” can lead to misunderstandings. We have our own “woundedness” to overcome that shows up in avoidant, anxious, or aggressive tendencies when we are attempting to get our needs met. Cultural, religious and regional differences can result in a breakdown of understanding.
Shame and feeling “not enough” creates a lack of belonging.
While having the need to connect, we unfortunately also carry a negativity bias . If trauma occurred, we build even greater protective walls and jump easily to defend and protect ourselves. We get easily triggered, We can become critical or “judgy”, defensive, and in rides those four horsemen of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling or contempt, defined by Dr. John Gottman.
“Split ambivalence” occurs when we take opposing views and become gridlocked.
The need to be right, to win or control are adaptive ways that interfere with more meaningful ways to gain greater depth and understanding. Lack of collaboration and team building takes its toll. Being with a team or family for that matter, who “play well in the sandbox” is highly sought after.
Compromise and learning to yield in order to win create a more open, growth oriented relationship. To increase perspective taking and curiosity increases the ability to feel seen and heard.
Special needs, mobility challenges, race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and age greatly intensify disconnection and isolation. Power over versus power with systems create a culture of privilege rather than one of inclusion and respect for diversity, difference and belonging.
Betrayals and subtle rejections can create relational wounds from “a thousand cuts”.
These kinds of wounds contribute to fear and reluctance. “Once burned twice shy” is a proverb so true.
Grief is a disconnector.
One often feels alone and on their own “planet” of suffering. We have lost so many too soon, especially throughout this global pandemic and the collective trauma we have endured. One slowly re-emerges into life forever changed. Tragic, or sudden death of a loved one leaves one disconnected from everything one knew to be true. An onset of a disabling illness, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is slow diminishing of the person we once knew. No one grieves the same and to connect with those who allow feelings,, to hold one in empathy and support as they pick up the pieces and heal, never “moving on” but learning to move “forward”. Love never dies. We learn to create meaning and gratitude and become stronger in the broken places We learn to live in the bittersweetness of life.
Our transient lifestyle results in a lack of community and greater permanence.
The breakdown of long lasting community makes it challenging to develop long-term and lasting relationships. To grow a community or a “tribe” of friends is intentional and requires deliberate nurturing. Necessary losses occur when people grow apart.
Irreconcilable differences contribute to disconnection.
Differences that we simply can’t overcome through compromise creates natural disconnection. I believe, however, that we can live respectfully with one another, focusing on “what we have in the middle” whether it is with family, co-workers, or in our communities.
Sometimes it is important to respect differences, shake hands and walk away. As painful as this is for couples or business teams, it is best done after knowing that one has done everything they could to work things out.
Mental anguish and addiction break down connection.
These ravage the best of relationships. Recovery requires unconditional support and family and friends. It is isolating and shame-filled and loved ones have a choice of turning toward, turning away or turning against. Tough love is needed.
Honest and mutually satisfying relationships are not a given. They are more like a tennis match where one hopes the ball will hit back into their court. It requires risk and confidence. Open-heartedness will guarantee heartbreak at some point.
“The brokenhearted are the bravest among us. They dared to love.”Brené Brown, PhD.
How can we overcome isolation and increase connection?
Increase self-compassion and self-leadership.
When we have lost our way, or feeling exhausted, depleted, endured a setback, or just haven’t taken the time for ourselves- we need to reconnect. To unplug for as much time as possible-additional time during the day, a retreat, or a way to check out to sort our feelings and needs is important. To ask big questions such as what is working? Not working? What “lights me up” and gives meaning to my life?
Gain clarity on a deeper level on what is important, gives direction and Infuses a sense of self-compassion and self-care. This will “fill our own bucket” having love and energy to give to others.
Holistic care physically, mentally, spiritually will grow a sense of self-love and kindness.
Self leadership builds a core of compassion, clarity, care, curiosity, connection, courage, confidence, and creativity.
Repair and Forgive
To heal, we must learn the art of real and genuine apology and forgiveness. Harboring resentment is like drinking poison hoping the other person will die. It is corrosive.
Another exercise from Rick Hanson is “let it be…let it go…let it in” Let all the feelings “just be”….feel the sense in your body. Now let it go, like a wave in the sea…breathing out all of the pain and anguish. Breathe in and Let in a sense of peace, forgiveness, Hold that felt sense for 20 seconds.. This takes practice and strengthening like a muscle and will allow emotional freedom.
Increase vulnerability required to take social risks. Have compassion for the socially anxious part of ourselves and our flagrant critic to be brave and kind. Increase acts of kindness to others that can overcome insecurities and tendencies to hold back for fear of rejection. Giving to others generously is the antidote to isolation.
Grow a sense of caring
Dr. Rick Hanson, Neuropsychologist shares that we can grow our neural pathways for greater well-being. Passing states lead to lasting traits. We can look for acts of caring in our daily lives. Taking in the good for 20 seconds during these moments can grow a felt sense of caring and feeling cared for.
“By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience- even the comfort in a single breath- you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure.”Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
We can grow our sense of feeling cared for through placing our hands over our hearts and remembering those who care about us, shares Dr. Vivek Murthy, M.D. US Surgeon General through his own meditation partnered with CALM. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIwnVhuVtbU
The loving-kindness meditation. Again, placing hands over heart, we can breathe in a prayer or meditation for the well being of ourselves and others.
Give and accept more bids for connection
Extending “bids for connection” is the way to engage more meaningfully with others. This is true within ourself, with couples, in the workplace and in the community. The Gottman’s research indicates that in healthy relationships, bids are accepted 87% of the time compared to unsuccessful couples who turn away 67% of the time.
How we turn towards makes an incredible difference. In general, couples respond to each other in one of four different ways: active destructive-( “Hey, can’t you see I’m busy”,) passive destructive, (looking at one’s phone while the other is talking) passive constructive (Non emotional- lack luster- “cool”)and active constructive.(Wow. Tell me more. or when invited to gaze out the window at a sunset- coming over and sharing- That sunset is gorgeous, while showing affection) or even, (Hey, I am in the middle of something, can you give me five and I am all in.)
Emily Esfahani Smith’s excellent article in the Atlantic on the 2 Traits of Lasting Relationships shares about the Gottman’s work:
Kindness and generosity are the two traits needed for lasting relationships.
Emotionally and physically comfortable, they accept/turn toward bids for connection, assume positive intent and respond with active constructive interest marked by these two tratis- as she shares- “you guessed it-kindness and generosity”. This is a learned habit she shares.
Forbes recently published article “Working To Strengthen Your Leadership – Accept More Bids to Connect confirms the role this research on developing necessary and lasting relational strength at work.
There is a great balance needed between the “me” in our relationships and room for oneself and the “we” or connection with our partner or work life.
Express appreciation and create quality time.
Building in time for hugs, handing off a cup of coffee, an “us” attitude of turning toward one another, and allowing time for sharing, and connection creates emotional intimacy.
When connection and intimacy are strong, conflicts are managed more easily and priorities are honored. 6 hours a week is recommended including morning and evening check-ins, extending appreciation, affection, and weekly dates. 15 minutes, Dr. Murthy shares, through picking up the phone or text with others outside of our home nurtures family and friends.
With couples traveling with work or couples who are spending time apart due to family needs, there are creative ways to keep connecting. I had a client who left notes around prior to a 3-week business trip that were a reminder of love.
Our workplace has shifted from office to virtual or hybrid. The sizes of our work teams now range from 2 to several in-person and remote; While this has given us creative possibilities to stretch and grow, it presents new challenges for creating and sustaining meaningful connections. Isolation is experienced often by remote workers. How can we increase a sense of inclusion and connection there?
In the workplace- virtual or in-person coffee breaks, happy hours, and “water cooler” conversations are simple ways to connect
“It’s wonderful to move forward technologically, but we cannot forget that we are human beings who thrive on relationships, who thrive on interconnectivity, who thrive on sharing feelings and emotions.”Goldie
Community, spontaneous connections occur when one is open, takes risks, and initiates. Connecting with others happens serendipitously while in the neighborhood, grocery store, or airport, Bids of connection that are received create close bonds. Words of appreciation expressed to another increased connection. Acts of kindness create lasting bonds.
Meeting with a group of like-minded peers, joining a class, church, synagogue, meditation group, yoga class or singing, dancing, gardening, or joining a sports team, are ways of bonding and creating meaningful relationships. Having at least one or two people who you really connect with and support your hopes, goals, and dreams is enough.
Build relational intelligence and skill
Trust, commitment, strengthening friendship, intimacy, understanding, empathy, great listening, authenticity, conflict management sharing feelings and needs take awareness, and skill to practice over a lifetime. Relationships need nurturing and priority. Creating a vision and shared meaning takes creativity, energy and cherishing.
There are actual apps now that connect you with others with similar needs, interests and hobbies. Friend apps are on the rise. https://www.oprahdaily.com/life/relationships-love/g29873497/best-friendship-apps/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=arb_ga_opr_md_pmx_us_urlx_18434562852&gclid=Cj0KCQjwwvilBhCFARIsADvYi7I-BwrTejKMByABYMZ_83dE71T8pOyhFa6HgJ_wHNrx9DwK1v-VbaoaAhKLEALw_wcB
There are so many ways one can make a difference.
Volunteering and giving social support are great ways to gain meaningful connections. There is such incredible need within so many important organizations that would welcome the participation and generosity of time, energy, and acts of kindness. One can choose a way to give back and pay it forward through social and environmental causes. Our lives matter. Together, we can make a difference.
“You do not just wake up and become the butterfly. Growth is a process.”Rupi Kaur
Are we thriving yet? How can connecting and growing help us thrive?
What does it mean to thrive?
The definition of thrive is to prosper, be fortunate or successful” I believe it means to live authentically into one’s values aligning head and heart I believe that we thrive when we overcome difficulties and strengthen our ability to rise toward higher good,
“Thriving happens when you have a life of purpose, vitality, connection, and celebration. This isn’t tied to a specific salary, job title, type of car, or relationship. Material possessions are not part of the recipe to thrive.”Chopra: Thrive in Life
Ways to increase thriving:
- Live within your strengths, values and felt sense of integrity.
- Gain clarity on what is important during this phase of life.
- Let go of what “shackles” you and align with what gives you joy and flow.
- Create an individual and relational vision board
- Gain inspiration from influencers through books, podcasts and videos. Read, listen or view as a couple or team.
- Align with fellow thrivers who will support your growth relationally.
When we adapt to uncertainties with a sense of self-leadership toward a higher good, we thrive. We thrive when we allow awe and wonder to fill our lives from nature, moral integrity, and brilliance from art, and music, especially in connection with others. May we be connected, open to growth, and ever-thriving.
“Let us swing wide all the doors and windows of our hearts on the rusty hinges, so we may learn how to open in love. Let us see the light in the other and honor it so we may lift one another on our shoulders and carry each other along. Let holiness move in us so we may pay attention to its small voice and give ourselves fully with both hands.”Dawna Markova, Ph.D.
Atlas of the Heart, Brene’ Brown, PhD
The Love Prescription, Drs. John and Julie Gottman
Us, Terrence Real
Necessary Losses, Judith Viorst
Making Great Relationships, Rick Hanson, PhD
How To Be Yourself, Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
No Bad Parts, Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.
Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, David Kessler
I Will Not Live An Unloved Life, Dawna Markova, Ph.D.
Living, Dawna Markova, Dawna Markova,, Ph.D.
Bittersweet, Susan Cain
Quiet, Susan Cain
Lost Connections, Johann Hari
Dream, Marcia Wieder
Relational Cultural Theory, Stone Center, Wellesley, Judith Jordan
Together, Dr. Vivek Murthy, MD. U.S. Surgeon General