In my last post I talked about connection, and how connection requires you to be able to be in the moment.
Increasingly I think connection is what we are all looking for. In family, in friendships, and especially in romantic relationships, connection is the key that binds us together. Brene Brown describes connection as:
Connection is intangible; but at the same time you know when it’s there and you know when it’s missing. We all want connection, and because humans are social animals I think it’s just as much of a need as food and shelter.
Intimacy (closeness) and love, these are all about connection.
Learning about Love
Growing up, we are taught the wrong things about love. I realize I’m stereotyping here (so feel free to ignore this if you disagree), but little girls seem to be taught that love is all about passion and romance – flowers, kisses and hearts that pound at the sight of the other person. And many women seem to internalize this, and come to believe that’s what love is. Intensity. Passion.
In fact, I recently saw a blog post talking about how the author wants her love to be like a hurricane. Passionate, and furious.
And I get that in a way.
But hurricane’s tend to not last very long. They burn out quickly, and leave a lot of damage in their wake.
Boys? I’m not sure if we are really taught anything about love. We see the same stories about love that the girls see, but we are never really taught that love should be a goal, or something to strive for the way girls are (it’s pretty common to see little girls dressing up as a bride for Halloween – but how often do you see a little boy dressing up as a groom).
For us love seems to start as more of a physical/hormonal response, as we’re often oblivious to girls until one day we realize “damn, she’s pretty hot”. Maybe because of this, for many of us it seems we come to associate sex with love.
I think this is why you hear that women need to feel connection in order to have sex, while men need to be having sex in order to feel connected. And this fundamental difference in how we think (due to how we have been taught) is the source of a ton of problems.
In any case, I think we both learn the wrong things. We are learning about the early phases of love, and thinking that’s what love actually is.
At its core though, I think we’re all really looking for connection.
We all want to find someone we feel connected to. We feel safe with, we feel we can be ourselves, and they will hear us, and respect us, and value us. And we’ll want to do the same for them. Connection is what is truly important.
The Problem with Connection
As much as we really strive for connection however, many people are afraid of it.
Because real connection requires vulnerability, it requires letting someone else in.
And that can be scary as hell.
Many of us, and perhaps most of us, struggle with letting other people in.
True connection requires allowing someone else to see all of you – the good sides and our darker sides, the parts of us that we hide from other. And it requires allowing that other person to love us anyways.
My wording here is very deliberate.
As people, we often sabotage ourselves because we are afraid.
Afraid of rejection. Afraid that we aren’t enough. We don’t accept ourselves, and love ourselves enough. And if we can’t even love ourselves, then how is someone else ever going to love us?
So we hold back, and we build walls. We try to only ever let the other person see the parts of us that we want them to see. We build these walls subconsciously with the intent of protecting ourselves from being hurt.
In doing so, we don’t allow that other person the opportunity to truly know us. We don’t give them the chance to accept us for all of us, good and bad.
We’re scared they won’t, so we don’t give them the opportunity.
And in the process we ensure that we will never have the connection that we truly crave.
We all limit how close we let people get to us. We all have things that we hide from both ourselves and others.
In fact I’m not sure if it’s even possible to let the other person in 100%, as doing so would require a level of self-awareness that most of will never achieve.
But for emotionally healthy relationships, we have to be in a situation where both parties are able to let the other person in and feel safe doing so.
Emotional disconnection happens when people won’t let others in. They will have healthy relationships on the surface, but will hide their feelings and not allow someone to get too close.
Sometimes this happens due to upbringing and a person’s attachment style, but it can also be brought about due to problems with depression or anxiety.
Both depression and anxiety can cause anhedonia, a state where a person feels as though they have no emotions, positive or negative. For sufferers of anhedonia there is an absence of emotion and they often feel dead inside. Sufferers do still feel some emotions, but they are primarily negative emotions or a pervasive sense of sadness. Positive emotions are not felt very strongly, and they find it hard to feel happiness.
During these dead or flat periods, external relationships frequently suffer, as connection breaks down.
Calmclinic.com describes this as follows:
Emotional detachment is usually an issue caused by severe, intense anxiety – most notably panic attacks, although any form of severe anxiety can cause emotional detachment.
While it’s not entirely clear what causes this detachment, it most likely is a coping mechanism for the brain. Severe emotions are not only mentally stressful – they’re also physically stressful, and your brain actually experiences very real stress and pressure that can be somewhat overwhelming.
So your brain may shut off or turn down those emotions, because dealing with no strong emotions at all may be easier for your brain to handle than intense emotions.
Also, don’t forget that your emotions really do change your brain chemistry. Sometimes those changes stick around for a while. Your anxiety may have caused your brain to produce less “positive emotion” neurotransmitters, which in turn causes you to experience emotional distance.
Allowing Love and Connection
We all need connection. Without it, couples aren’t a “we” and instead are just two people occupying the same space. Without connection, you aren’t able to truly share life, and experiences.
Connection however requires you to accept your emotions (good and bad), share them, and be vulnerable. It doesn’t happen unless you allow it, and allow the other person in.
Without that there is no intimacy, and only a hollow, dispassionate version of love.
People are scared to be vulnerable because they are scared to be hurt. Scared to be rejected. And so they hold back – both consciously and subconsciously.
But all holding back does is limit your ability to connect with another person.
It’s true, people can’t hurt you if you don’t let them. And allowing yourself to be vulnerable means you will be hurt sometimes, by those you love.
That’s part of life though, and you need to be willing to accept it as part of the tradeoff.
Given a choice between being vulnerable and allowing myself to be hurt, or walling myself off from potential hurt and instead feeling nothing, I know what I pick. And really, it’s an easy choice.
Because without connection, you can’t really have love.