Updated: Jul 21, 2020
We don't always need a therapist to help understand and improve our connection with others. For example, here are three practices (including the V-word) you can try for more genuine and lasting relationships:
Have you ever been frustrated with how difficult it is to meet genuine, real people? Or disappointed in how elusive intimate relationships seem to be? Maybe you’re just curious about how to connect with others in more authentic ways. If you can relate, this short article is packed with three helpful nuggets just for you.
For expats (no, this article isn’t just for expats), or anyone living away from home, connecting with others in your home country may have come quite naturally. The familiar surroundings and comforts of home, knowing how things work and how people think (generally speaking) tends to lead to feeling at ease with yourself and others. That said, it’s entirely possible that making meaningful connections at home wasn’t easy and just wasn’t happening. Perhaps this may have been a main reason for changing locations in the first place. Either way, whether you’re an expat or living in your home country, this article will address three very relevant issues that are impacting your life and your relationships (or lack thereof).
Wherever you live, making genuine connections is often not that easy. It’s also usually not as simple as joining a meetup group, dabbling in online dating, taking a dance class, or just ‘putting yourself out there’ more (although there is a time and a place for all of these). Instead, sometimes it’s necessary to go inside and do some inner work to determine what obstacles, if any, are getting in the way of finding (and sustaining) intimate relationships. The Dalai Lama has said ‘in order to change conditions outside ourselves, we must first change within ourselves.’ This means addressing some of our core conditioning that impacts how we’re relating (or not relating) to others.
Let’s take a look at 3 things you can work on to improve your chances of making meaningful connections:
1) The first practice: Instead of trying to get people to understand you, practice trying to understand them first. Meaning, trying to understand them on a deeper level. So often when someone is speaking, we are rehearsing our response, instead of truly listening with the intent to understand. Understanding their intention underneath their words or actions is the key. For example, someone might be frustrated or angry with you, and of course a common reaction is to take it personally or get offended. However, underneath frustration or anger is often hurt or fear. We have been conditioned to accept anger or frustration as ‘ok’ but pain, hurt, or fear is kind of ‘not ok.’ We have been taught that pain and fear are a weakness, and therefore it doesn’t feel safe to feel and express these difficult emotions. So in all likelihood, when someone is frustrated or angry with you, it’s really pain or fear disguised. So, when someone acts or speaks in ways that you don’t like or expect, practice not taking it personally, and instead listen deeply to understand the root of their experience. When you do, they will feel understood and ‘seen’ which is all any of us really want. Think about the last time you have felt an authentic connection with someone, it’s because you felt they truly ‘get you.’ So instead of being a talker in hopes someone will understand you, play with being an active listener. This entails deep listening with the intent to empathize and understand the deeper layer behind someone’s words and behaviors.
2) Number two is a simple practice involving ‘letting go.’ If your tendency is to stew on things and let them fester, chances are you’re walking around tense and frustrated, because life almost never goes as we expect it to or hope it will. Often, exactly what is NOT needed is to overthink an uncomfortable or disappointing situation, rehearsing what you should have or could have said (or will say next time). The Buddha said that anger is like picking up a hot stone to throw at someone…you are the one who gets burned. Lamenting, resenting, and clinging to someone’s words or actions often leads to you being the one who suffers. Sometimes this simple phrase can be very helpful: “Is this worth my peace?” Often, the answer is No. Play with this phrase and see if it works for you.
3) Number three might be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding. Playing with being vulnerable. First, let’s get clear on what vulnerability is and isn’t. Contrary to what we’ve been taught (implicitly or otherwise), it is the opposite of weakness. Depending on your upbringing, many people have been taught to see vulnerability as a weakness or a flaw. The truth is, it takes strength and courage to be vulnerable. Let’s break it down: what does it mean to be vulnerable? If you’re not familiar with Brene’ Brown, you might want to be. She defines vulnerability as 1) uncertainty 2) risk, and 3) emotional exposure. Scary right? Why on earth would anyone choose to be vulnerable? The answer is: as you know, the most meaningful relationships you’ve had were with those who accepted your vulnerabilities and valued your willingness to share them. Remember those moments when you truly connected with someone in an intimate and special way? Chances are it was because one or both of you was willing to be super real and share a part of you that felt risky to share. Uncertain how the other might react (possibly with rejection), one of you chose to share anyway, despite feeling emotionally exposed.
As is often the case, when someone opens up to us in this vulnerable way, we sense their tender, raw humanity, and we feel closer to them because we can relate to that scary feeling of allowing someone to see our true self. For me personally, one of the best intentions I’ve ever heard, and one that I use almost daily (again from Brene’ Brown) is: “May I let go of who I think I should be, in order to be who I really am.” Practicing this intention is one way you can play with being vulnerable. It won’t always be easy, and that’s ok. It’s also wise to remember there’s a time and a place for vulnerability (practice it while also keeping appropriate boundaries).
Being vulnerable also includes asking for help, telling someone when we're not ok, and being ok with not being ok.
By practicing deep listening, letting go, and being vulnerable, we can learn how to soften and relax into the moment, and in the presence of others. This increases the chances of connecting with others on deeper, more intimate levels.
To continue to work on your relationships, you may consider viewing this article or looking into couples counseling. You might also think about enrolling in the online course Lunch Break Therapy. This course has an entire module dedicated to healthy relationships.
To deepen these practices, and to learn other useful tools that will help you in your relationships, feel free to email or call for a free consultation. I am a licensed psychotherapist in Vietnam.
I hope this is useful! Thanks for reading…