Why We’re Afraid of Real Connection and Why We Need Deeper Conversations Now

“It’s one of the great paradoxes of the human condition—we ask some variation of the question ‘How are you feeling?’ over and over, which would lead one to assume that we attach some importance to it.  And yet we never expect or desire—or provide—an honest answer.” ~Mark Brackett, Ph.D., Permission to Feel

It used to make me feel happy if someone made me cry.

This is not a sinister, depraved way.

It was clear to me that once the chaos subsided and the children felt secure, it would be possible for us to peel away enough layers and the emotions will flow. The truth is what we were looking for. You will find out how they felt, their struggles, and the truth about who they are.

Although I didn’t like their pain, I was able to keep space.

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This was not achieved in a psychologist’s office or in some sort of support group for mental health. I carried this out in a workplace… for employees.

It is obvious that I am not a top-level communicator. Most days I’d rather have pins stuck in my eyes, than chat about weather or chitchat with people, even though there are so many more things going on underneath the surface. I get frustrated with the façade, pretending we are all okay, when everyone, on some level, is struggling.

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It isn’t how many of us have been taught to behave in society. Cultural norms often dictate politeness, keeping emotions at a minimum and keeping conversation within acceptable boundaries.

Why is it that our basic need for belonging and connection are not met in our conversation?

We have enough solid evidence to confirm that we feel more connected and happier when we take our conversations just a little deeper, yet we don’t. We even have a chemical in our brain called tachykinin that’s released when we feel lonely. It’s the brain’s way of making us feel uncomfortable, so we search out others and connect.

It’s obvious we’re wired for connection. Why is it so hard to make meaningful connections beyond superficial pleasantries?

Our beautiful, messy complexity

As with human behaviour, the interesting confluence is what I think it is.

This is based upon my professional experience and academic research. An honest response would admit that most of what I have to say comes from my childhood, which dates back several decades. Some personal stories are even from a few years earlier.

Because we perceive the world using our own lenses and perceptions of it, we are more likely to be focused on what is unconsciously important. For me, my ability to perceive the deeper dimensions of another human being is a result of my own childhood in which no one acknowledged my existence.

Although I know I’m not Robinson Crusoe I also realize that I have some needs. Freud would probably be a great fit for this situation.

This is mainly due to past experience. Thank goodness for my past experiences, I understand the reasons people don’t want to be connected on a deeper level. It is good for both our physical and psychological health.

Our Aversion to Deeper Connectivity

Many reasons people have difficulty having meaningful and connected conversations with each other. I believe the list is even more extensive if this were put in a professional context.

These are however my top five picks:

1. Emotions can be binary.

Emotions are not “good” or “bad.” They’re simply data, giving us signs and clues. Because we haven’t been taught how to embrace and be open to all emotions, many are suppressed or judged. While we are happy to be around people who are happy, it is very difficult for us to feel comfortable with someone who is sad.

2. We hide our vulnerability.

Uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, guilt or shame can make it difficult and risky to express these feelings with others. We want to avoid this kind of exposure.

These deep feelings can be shared with someone we trust to give us a deeper sense of belonging and connection.

3. We don’t want to risk being ousted.

Because our brains have a hardwired need to be part of a group, if we feel social exclusion, this actually registers in our brains as physical pain. If we could stay in a group, we might be willing to sacrifice our individual needs and take more risks like sharing our opinions or deeper feelings with others. This is something we’ve all witnessed at work.

4. We get triggered.

Anything that goes beyond the surface of conversation has the potential for an emotion to make an appearance on some stage. There is a risk that you will get triggered, and then move into a threat reaction. This can cause distressing and even traumatic reactions for some. In this area, we can often observe old patterns, defense mechanisms and childhood conditioning as well unconscious behavior.

5. Because our feelings were not received well as children, we hold on to them.

Growing up, any strong emotions, such as anger, fear or sadness, could be met with severe consequences. This may have led us to learn how to stop that part of ourselves. The narrative then became “it is not safe to show how I really feel.” This coping mechanism can make it difficult to connect with anyone on a deep level as an adult.

If there’s connection there’s light

Although this list might encourage us to be more sensitive and less emotional, it does not give us the opportunity to experience all that is beautiful about being human.

Covid provided some of our benefits. We have seen the effects of all this disruption over the past few years and are now acutely conscious of what we must do to ensure that connection is a top priority. Now, loneliness is a major public health problem.

I’ve even noticed an increase in my own introversion and a strange apprehension to connect with others at the moment. Even though my specialty is in connecting and I know the many benefits it brings, sometimes I need to push myself to be out there and connect with others.

However, I am certain that our shared vulnerability and struggle connects us. It is here that we discover commonality. We don’t feel lonely. We can see how we are all one, and we try our best to use the available tools. So that our hearts are more open to others and ourselves, we can have compassion.

It is a great way to live a full and rich life. So go on, get out there….

Kylie Flynn

Happi Matters is Kylie’s workplace wellbeing and connection expert. She brings more of the human side to your workplace. Kylie recently created The Good2Connect Project for workplaces looking to improve their team connection. It is a 30 day program. Good2Connect is a unique program that combines individual and group activities around wellbeing and connection. Get connected to Happi Matters via Insta or LinkedIn.

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