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Three Things That Keep Us From Connection

We want to be known, but we unwittingly do things to keep people at arm's length.

Do you ever feel alone? Like no one really understands who you are? No one sees you?

I have felt like the real me was trapped inside an outer shell and no one was able or willing to look past the exterior facade to find me. The more I felt unseen, the more my inner self seemed to shrivel up and slowly disappear. I was angry no one appeared to notice or care that the truest parts of me were hidden and dying. I resented people not making an effort to connect with me.

In hindsight I realize how much I was doing (and sometimes still do) to keep people out, even as I blamed them for not reaching in. We all desperately want to be known, but we unwittingly do things to keep people at arm’s length. Recognizing when we do things that keep us from connection and taking responsibility for our actions can help break down those barriers that keep us from feeling known.

We Don’t Develop a Clear Understanding of Ourselves

I feel frustrated and lonely when my need to be understood is not being met. But meeting my need to be known starts with understanding myself. Not only will I feel most unseen if I’m not taking the time to see myself for who I truly am, but I can’t possibly show others who I am when I don’t even know myself.

It’s not someone else’s responsibility to ensure my needs for connection and understanding are met. First I must take responsibility to know myself. Then I can show others who I am.

Do This Instead: When we want to connect with others the very first thing we need to do is get to know ourselves. Ask yourself questions and answer honestly. Don’t tell yourself how you think you should answer, but dig into who you really are.

What do you enjoy doing? What are your biggest fears? What are your strengths? What makes you feel most alive? What do you have to give? Take some time to figure out your core values. Once you have a clearer idea of who you are and what is most important to you, choose one small action you can take today to bring more of what really matters to you into your everyday life.

We Seek Validation Over Connection

When we interact with another person we can choose to seek connection or validation. The problem is we often confuse the two. We want connection—to know and be known. But often we are so afraid of rejection we try for validation instead.

We make assumptions about what other people expect of us and try to meet those expectations. Even if people do validate us, it’s not really us they are validating. Instead they are accepting and approving our imitation of who we think they expect us to be.

When we’re not showing up as ourselves, we can’t truly connect, even if we are accepted. Furthermore, in trying to meet their expectations instead of showing up as ourselves, we aren’t validating who we are. The more we hold back and go for validation rather than connection, the more we reinforce to ourselves that we are not ok. If we don’t accept ourselves, we don’t see how anyone else could accept us either. So we hide who we are and try to appear as someone we believe will be accepted.

Do This Instead: Often we find ourselves looking for validation instead of connection because we’re not validating something within ourselves. What specifically about yourself do you fear will cause others to reject you? Once you’ve identified something, look for evidence to the contrary.

For example, sometimes I find myself looking for validation because I’m afraid people will think I’m boring. To combat this I can note times when I’ve made someone laugh, shared helpful information, enjoyed a fun activity, and so on. The more I focus the ways I am who I want to be instead of the ways I think I fall short, the more confident I become to show up authentically in relationships.

Also, when we are looking for validation we tend to turn a lot of our energy inward to analyze how well we’re measuring up to the expectations we assume the other person has of us. Instead, try focusing on the person you are with. When you really pay attention to the other person, you see them and offer them understanding and connection. You’re also more likely to show up authentically when you’re less focused on yourself. You open yourself up to find connection in return.

We Act as a Victim Instead of a Creator

Sometimes we feel resentful because no one reaches in to connect with us. We wait for someone to rescue us from our loneliness.

I remember feeling very disconnected from my friends at a party. Instead of starting up a conversation with someone or confiding my feelings to a friend, I went out on the balcony alone and waited for someone to notice my loneliness. I wanted someone to see me and to reach out and draw me back in. I wanted connection, but didn’t want to risk being vulnerable enough to show up and reach out to someone else. I waited for someone to risk rejection in order to reach out to me.

The problem is no one is coming to rescue us. We are responsible for ourselves. In order to get what we long for we must find ways to create it. Feeling sorry for ourselves and blaming others will not get us there.

Do This Instead: If you find yourself waiting for someone to rescue you, remember it’s no one else’s responsibility to make sure you feel connected and seen. We don’t have to wait for someone else to come find us. We can choose to create connection for ourselves.

Think about someone you would really like to connect with. What would you like your interactions to look like? This is not about trying to figure out what they want so they will accept you. What would you like them to know about you? What would you like to do? What would you like to talk about? What needs to happen for you to feel connected with this person? What can you do to make this vision a reality?

Now just because we want things to be a certain way doesn’t mean that’s always what will happen. But the clearer we get on exactly what we do want, the more we are able to make choices in the moment that will be in line with that ideal situation. What is one action you can take today to authentically reach out to someone and create more connection in your life?

Do you struggle to connect with people? What helps you show up as your authentic self and reach out to someone else? What is something you are going to do this week to deepen your connection with yourself or someone else?