What do you do when you feel down? Do you avoid people, places, and places with people? You may be an introvert, in which this is totally normal. Or, you may have been impacted by a traumatic experience that adjusted your ability to trust others. Whatever it may be, we are all still human. Part of this humanness includes building connections. Without that form of intimacy, we die.
Back in the hunter-gatherer days, exile meant death. Should a member be sent out into the world on their own, with no protection from their clansmen, that person would quickly perish from worldly dangers such as the elements, being hunted, or starving to death. There are exceptions, but you’re really not that special. Whether you like it or not, you need people. We all do.
Isolation leads to severe emotional pain.
So, you may ask- what does this have to do with talking to Bob at the grocery store, or answering that phone call from mother? Opening up at a certain point helps you not only process the feelings you experience and potentially avoid, but it also helps you to compare the reality of events with that which swirls inside your head. Your brain releases good-feeling neurotransmitters, also, when you forge a bond with another person (Brent, 2014). Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin play major roles in bonding and relationship development. These are our “feel-good” chemicals that promote this behavior because that is how people evolved as a social species. It is imperative for our survival.
If you are familiar with the addict/alcoholic meeting rooms of AA/NA/CA/SA/ or any other -A, then you will hear those awesome catch-phrases that have so much meaning. One of my favorites is about stinkin’ thinkin’, and how getting into our heads leads us to self-destruction. Our minds are the most dangerous places to be sometimes. So, where does your thinking center in isolation? It’d just be you and your way thoughts, with no direction, no outer perspectives, no fresh ideas. You. And, maybe your alter ego. Is he even tolerable?
“I am bad at making friends.” This is one common phrase I hear. We all struggle in one area or another. For some, being social is theirs. Social anxiety is a real and pervasive disorder that keeps many disconnected and in distress. There is also no clear answer. You have to try new techniques, keep an open mind, and accept that it’s just not always about you. Sometimes others have their own events in life that influence their filters. This is not your problem, there is nothing bad about you. It simply means they cannot separate themselves from imposing their distorted reality onto you. Their shit, not your shit.
“I can’t stand people. Humans are jerks/gross/ugly/asses/annoying/insert any other valid complaint.” Hey, I certainly am not arguing with you here. We are a truly terrible species, sometimes. We can be the ugliest to each other. People can also be amazing and create spectacular worlds. The ying-yang tugs of life reflect events for what they are- things that happen. It is humans that judge these as “good” or “bad” events. Humans slap labels on things and react emotionally to them, accordingly. Sometimes events are not that bad, and sometimes seemingly good things are terrible. Un-tint those shades you see the world through and let a little light into your soul. You’re like a dwindled plant writhing in a dark corner of a mid-level Brooklyn apartment with no windows. Stop it with the Eeyore attitude, already.
“I don’t have time for people.” Sure, you run to work, run the kids to practice, run to meetings, run to the store, run to whatever tasks the day calls for. You might have 2 jobs, 7 kids, and a ton of errands on a daily basis. Maybe you even talk to tens of people per day. But, how well do you connect with at least one person that you trust, on a deeply emotional level? How surficial do you remain when in contact with everyone else? If you have your walls up constantly, you will be well defended. Yes, you will be protected from getting hurt. But, you will also be very, very lonely.
If that works for you, great. If not, what are you going to change?
Catchphrase time again! Stupid is not doing the same thing over and expecting different results. Stupid is doing the same thing over and knowing what the outcome is going to be. Stay the same and do not put any effort into rebuilding your social structure if what you are doing is working out well for you now. Otherwise, how are you going to experiment? You must put yourself out there and expose yourself to pain, shame, fear, and anger. It will take trial, error, and sifting through some shady personalities. It might include doing activities that you don’t necessarily care to partake in, or feel there are better ways to spend your time. Try, experiment, fail, analyze, adjust, and try again. Something will stick. With a closed mind, nothing will get in.
Let yourself be vulnerable.
Try it with someone you trust. A little bit at a time. Vulnerability is never easy, but it can build strong bonds when flexed. If you think about it- a person who is angry at the store that looks at you and calls you the stupidest dipshit they’d seen all day because you pushed your cart in a manner they didn’t like would be much less palatable than a person who is angry and says to you when you bump into their cart that they had a bad day and are not the best of people to talk to right now. Sending a message that lands are so important.
Vulnerability is not something that should be shared with everyone. Joe Schmoe on the bus does not need to know about your childhood trauma or sex life. Your best friend, on the other hand, is a great resource for collaboration and support. Start developing boundaries, loosening them up where they wall you off from connection and adjust.
You are just as valuable and loveable as any other person in this world. Money, status, preferences do nothing for increasing the importance of one person over another. Therefore, don’t let others’ actions sever you at the core. You are equal to them, to me, to all of us. That’s what makes us beautiful. We are all different and we all bring value to the table.
SO, go shine, and make those friends! There’s a giant world of people waiting to connect to people just like you.
Lauren J.N. Brent, Steve W.C. Chang, Jean-François Gariépy, and Michael L. Platt. “The neuroethology of friendship.” The New York Academy of Sciences (2014): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4045505/