In the age of social media, it’s possible to feel deeply connected to people who we don’t even know in real life. From online influencers to old high school friends, social media allows us to get ‘inside’ these people’s everyday lives: what they eat for breakfast, where they vacation, when they get a promotion at work. My own followers on Instagram tell me this a lot, but it makes me wonder if it’s possible to nurture our innate need for connection via a screen thanks to the boost of feel-good neurochemicals we receive after a comment, a like or another form of digital interaction.
Studies actually show that our personal, psychological and spiritual well-being depends on our social connections with others; humans are meant to seek close and ongoing connection across cultures. Our brains and bodies are biologically wired to bond in person; a genuine face-to-face connection releases serotonin and results in happy feelings.
This knowledge is a double-edged sword. Technology provides a quick ‘high’ and can be an easy way to establish friendships, but there are still barriers to overcome in cultivating and keeping meaningful relationships, particularly when it’s so easy to hide behind our technology. In fact, 70% of adults who have experienced trauma, like me, find it harder to connect with others. Other psychological problems such as low self-esteem, anxiety or trust issues can block us from connecting with others.
It’s essential to our health and well-being that we overcome our blockages and foster our social interactions. Connection invites us to expand the depth of our hearts to discover our blind spots, develop empathy and offer both introspective and cultural perspective.
It’s only in recent years that I recognized my own strategies for meeting and cultivating relationships wasn’t working — I used parties, drugs and alcohol as a vehicle for developing social bonds. It not only left me feeling depleted, but in declining physical health. I’ve recently started the daily discipline of untangling pre-conditioned thoughts and emotions, inherited from my mom and reinforced by my dad, which impacted by inability to communicate my desire for connection.
Below are 7 steps to help you make and maintain social connections, opening you up to give and receive love beyond what you could have ever imagined.
1. Recharge your inner-resources before you speak
To communicate our need for connection, we must be fully charged first. Ask yourself what you need to do to increase your inner-resources. Maybe you’re emotionally or physically depleted so you schedule guilt-free time with yourself.
Respect your need to rest. This act of self-compassion will reconnect you with your heart and provide you with strength to carry on in a skillful way. When you are depleted, notice that you are probably meeting your needs from a place of scarcity and unintentionally causing harm.
A simple way for you to check in with yourself is to notice the tone and content of what you say to yourself and others — is it beneficial? Harmful? Skillful or unskillful? Ask yourself: can I just take a pass, stay quiet and practice listening with the heart?
In deep listening to others you are actually rebuilding your inner-resources with compassion.
2. Your projects are self-limiting
Before you react to every impulse, you must become aware of the constant stream of thoughts and feelings being processed by your mind. Depending on the quality of your mental landscape at any given moment, you are either intentionally or unintentionally projecting an additional layer into every idea you engage with.
This layer isn’t always beneficial—it’s usually tinted with a thick layer of preconditioning passed down from generations of unresolved trauma. You can check yourself by asking: am I coloring the present moment with my internal chaos? If so, this red flag implies that your strategies for connecting with others won’t lead to sustainable relationships. However, if you can drop your projections and come in close contact with the present moment, you can also choose to drop your projections, quiet the internal chaos of the mind and shift your traumatic memories to the side.
Once you have done this, you’ll have touched base at the heart where you have met your need for connection successfully.
3. Be intentional to be free
An attention can be an anchor. It can pave the road from the mind into the heart anytime you find yourself confused or ruminating on what others might be thinking about you.
So, what is a beneficial intention to have to meet your for need for connection? Love, of course! But I invite you to reframe your understanding of love in this context to include love of all beings, rather than just a partner or yourself. This is a practice called loving kindness, a Buddhist method for developing compassion. By softening the mind and the heart, and meditating on care, concern and friendship for oneself and others, we can connect to deeper levels of kindness from a selfless place. The ripple effect of your altruistic thinking will lead to more meaningful connections and a healthier life.
4. It’s okay to be uncomfortable
Satisfying your needs for connection isn’t always comfortable, and we suffer because we are conditioned to feel immediately at ease in new relationships or social situations. The antidote for an uneasy mindset is compassion. In practical terms, you can simply whisper a reminder to yourself: just like me, they too, are trying to meet their need for connection. Compassion then pacifies the mind and becomes the conduit to exercise patience.
Altruistic thinking will lead to more meaningful connections and a healthier life.
5. Triggers are divine messengers
The biggest saboteur in developing new relationships or nurturing existing ones are the moments when we feel triggered. Have you ever noticed that when you’re triggered by a person or conversation how quickly you ‘know’ who or what to blame? This unconscious, quick response can pull us away from the opportunity to learn from the nectar that triggers carry. Triggers often lead us to seek resolution from another person, even when the conflict lies within ourselves. Pause in this moment and see if you can seek self-resolution first. Self-resolution means that you have touched base with your heart and are no longer leaking, projecting or inflicting additional suffering. From this point of self-resolution, you’ll be clear on what this trigger brought up for you and how to address it in the future.
If you are at peace with yourself, you would not respond to suffering with more suffering. You would always respond with compassion.
6. Don’t try to understand everything with the mind
Your thoughts and feelings are real, but not always true. This may sound counterintuitive, but they are not always a reliable indicator of reality. A reliable guide to reality is your courage to keep coming back to the present moment and listening attentive to the language of the heart. Practice gifting the present moment your undivided attention. In this process you’re decalcifying the mind from mental obscurations, and you can finally listen to your heart, which is inherently loving, compassionate, creative and blissful.
7. The love available to you is never limited
Above all else, when opening yourself up to human connection, you must remember often that the love available to you isn’t limited to what you received growing up. It is your mission to study these broken ways, learn about the depth of the language of love, and share it—because it’s only in sharing love that we heal, it is in sharing love that you create sustainable connections.