Pandemic to Possibility-Creating Community

This week’s strategy for success is looking at the importance of community. The word community comes from French, old English, and Latin words meaning ‘to share with others.’ Your drive for social connectedness and belonging is the essential ‘old friend’ that has been with you your entire life. It is that innate seeking to be with others and is tied to our sense of survival. Alfred Adler, a famous psychologist and student of Freud, viewed relationships with social curiosity of our fellow humans as one of the main priorities of existence and, as he termed it, our main task in life. Adler expressed that all individuals have the basic desire: “to belong and feel significant.”

Turn On Your Inner ‘Social-Light’

Lights are off, and no one’s home is how life has felt lately. If you are like me, your social well-being has been restricted over the past couple of years with the pandemic. For some, depending on your personality type, being secluded at home might have felt comfortable and cozy. It may have seemed like being grounded and sent to your room for others. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the reality is that we need deep engagement with others around us to survive and regulate our nervous systems. It is in our basic genetics and part of our evolution as mammals. We need nurturing, connection, and play as part of our daily diet and everything else.

The pandemic shutdown has moved many of us into a habitual comfort space engaging the primitive reptilian brain on the lookout for threats, prefering to navigate alone. But, did you know that some reptilian species actually flee their families to avoid being eaten? That danger searching mechanism is built into our early brains. You may relate to that in your current family. Either way, evolution has taught us that we need others to support our survival.

Joseph Chilton Pearce, the renowned author, and professor, studied how our brains can get stuck in patterns leaving us sleepwalking through life. He saw our capacity to create new possibilities by tapping into our innate need for independence and interdependence with others.

As babies, we learn to depend on others for food, shelter, brain development, and protection. These requirements carry over through adulthood with the desire for connection, to be seen, understood, matter, be loved, and accepted. As infants, we coordinate our nervous systems with our primary caregivers, setting our tuning like an instrument with our caregiver’s wiring. In adulthood, we are still regulating ourselves with those around us. When we are disconnected from our inner-emotional selves and others, we can be like that out-of-tune guitar that hangs around in the corner of your room. It is time to tune in and reignite those wants for connection by turning our lights on concerning others around us!

Rise and Shine

In these last two years, we have gained a heightened fear of exposure with new waves of social anxiety as we negotiate to be in our communities again. Many of us have been creatively attending community events over zoom, like churches, political events, weddings, birthdays, etc. While they are alternatives for connectedness, they have led to zoom fatigue and don’t ignite the deep resonance we crave and get being with others. We may have gained a new hermit-like habit, where we are less likely to want to engage in person as the opportunity arises. With the increased patterns of being connected online with email, text, zoom, slack, insta-everything, we have become less connected to ourselves and less present to others when we are with them. It is time to wake up, shake ourselves up, and start feeling what is going on in our insides. When we can be aware of ourselves, we have more energy available to be present with others.

Hide and Seek

We often feel sensitive and want to hide away the discomfort of our desires for contact. These avoidance strategies might have dulled the pain of the deeper hunger for needing others, but they come at a cost. Our neurobiology begs us to seek connection, and when it is repeatedly unmet, we can fall into patterns of isolation, chronic loneliness, and a sense of powerlessness. Leading social psychologist, Barbara Frederickson, PhD., explains that they shield us from the possibilities of genuine contact, making us out of touch with our bodies and ability to have resonance and positivity. The resonance we build by being ‘in tune’ with others supports emotional agility and resilience when life rises and falls with the tides.

Find Your North Star

When connected emotionally with ourselves and others, we can calibrate out of our darker thinking patterns toward hope and possibilities. We have more access to our higher-level thinking and prefrontal cortex, leading to understanding the big picture and deeper life contexts. We literally can lift each other. With engaged communities of others, we are aimed at the north star of positivity and buoyed through the storms of life, facing the elements together and rising above the tides.

Belong or Longing to Be

When we think of the word to belong, the sensation we get is right in the word itself. We long for others to see us as we are and to be fully ourselves. Researcher, author, and esteemed professor, Brene Brown, found in her studies on belonging that we must belong to ourselves first and as much as to others. She explains that “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.” This means that when we can fully love and accept who we are, we can bravely share ourselves in the face of possible rejection. We must be who we are to be seen. Too often, this desire to have love and acceptance can cheapen the experience when presenting only what we think others want. This is not what quenches that deep primal thirst for connection. Instead, we create further separation and disconnection when we manage what others know about us and try to ‘fit in.’ The deepest sense of connection must always start at home. The more we can learn to love and accept ourselves with all the messy parts, the deeper connection we can allow in from others. In her grounded research studies on connection, Brown revealed an “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 that relationship.”

I May Be A Reptile…Now What?

We have established that we have a deep need for others. What do we do about it? You may fall in the space of the more reptilian self who has been overly comfortable hiding out and potentially numb to needing others. No shame. There is a way out of the hole and into the light. It begins with turning your lights on. Your inner light, that is. When we can be aware of what we feel on the inside, we can develop a greater presence in our emotions and basic needs. We can understand the deeper longings underneath the lure of sweetness in the candy or the romantic comedy. By understanding ourselves through feeling our emotions, we can do something about it. Research has shown that disconnection is felt in our bodies as physical pain. It is essential to feel it. Our bodies remind us somatically to do something about it. So get to it! And if you find yourself wanting deeper support, our community of therapists are here to help!

Activities for Connection:

Over the next couple of weeks, try on some basic activities for connection.

  • Be aware of what you feel inside. See if you can notice that desire to be known, understood, matter, and be heard by others. Acknowledge that part of you as necessary and seek out those needs.
  • Love yourself. Be kind and gentle with yourself even if you are not at your best. Try on some acceptance for where you are right now, even if it is in sweatpants covered in Cheetos. Let that be alright.
  • If you can connect with another human in person, do it. Try being vulnerable. It may be something that you share that is real and raw. It can also look like just gazing into someone’s eyes for a minute with no words. Let yourself BE with your Longing.
  • Get a hug! Hugs can release many positive feelings, and chemicals wash all over our bodies. It can help both individuals coregulate together and reset. It’s a good thing!
  • Play with others. Remember that you are a mammal, just like a puppy or kitty cat. So let that inner animal out and be silly with another human being. We need it.