We human beings are social creatures who are high wired for connection with other human beings. Connection with what is alive, in other words what is real, true and genuine in others with that what is real, true and genuine in us is one of our deepest basic needs and it is universal which means we all have it. What differs for all of us is not the need, but how we choose to meet that need. So what differs is a strategy that we apply to meet our need for connection (or any other need for that matter) and there are many strategies to meet that shared need for connection we all have. The strategies we choose will also differ from person to person, and will be influenced by the person we want to connect with, type of relationship we have with that person, as well as different points in life we find ourselves at in that particular moment.
Additionally, we are often not even in touch with our need for connection and, more often than not, we choose our strategies to meet this (and other needs) unconsciously. This means that our chances for a true genuine connection with others are greatly increased or reduced by the level of our own connection with our own feelings and needs. Think of it, if you are not in touch with what is going on within you in this moment, who is then connecting with others? And how can you connect with others genuinely and truthfully if you are not connected with what is real, genuine and true inside of you in this moment?
Nevertheless, you still have that need for connection with other human beings and in absence of true connection with yourself, that is to say your feelings and needs, you may try to relate to others through your opinions and beliefs, which are mostly, set, unexamined and static, hence, by definition they are not a true, genuine and real representation of your aliveness in this very moment. And if the other person is also not connected to their feelings and needs chances of two of you experiencing fulfilling connection are almost certain to be next to none. The more in touch we are with ourselves the more likely we are to connect with what is truly alive in others, with their feelings and needs, without projecting, criticising them for having those feelings, blaming ourselves, or taking responsibility for their feelings and for fulfilment of their needs. I am the only person that can fulfil my needs, you can only help me in my process but you are neither responsible, nor can you fulfil them for me.
It follows then that the self-connection with our own feelings and more importantly needs is a prerequisite for the quality of connection with any other human being.
The second prerequisite for creating true, genuine connection is our readiness to experience, show and share our own vulnerability. Feeling of vulnerability leads us to another basic universal human need - emotional safety. Emotional safety is at the core of our very being and the more we are in touch with our feelings and needs the more we are embedded in our need for emotional safety. The more we know how to fulfil this need for ourselves the more we are ready to open up to others emotionally, that is to say show them our vulnerability.
When we are in touch with our need for emotional safety we open up, we try to connect by showing our vulnerability openly hoping that others can also receive our feelings and needs openly, as a gift rather than a burden. However, even if they cannot or do not want to receive us openly we have the trust that in such situations we can be emotionally safe. We contribute to our need for emotional safety by giving ourselves loving kindness in those moments when others cannot receive our vulnerable expression of our feelings and needs. By acknowledging our vulnerability and loving ourselves through it we create emotional safety for ourselves.
However, from early childhood onwards most of us have learned not to show openly our feelings let alone needs. For many vulnerability is being equated with being weak. Rather than teaching our children that being vulnerable takes courage and it is a daring thing to show your vulnerability, we teach them, mostly by our own example, to suppress their feelings, keep their feelings to themselves and to show ''brave face'', in other words not to show what they feel. How many adult men are unable to express their sadness because as children they were given a belief that ''big boys do not cry?'' And, how many women suppress their own needs on behalf of others because they were told when thy were young that ''good, polite girls always listen to and help other people first?'' Hence, from early childhood on majority of us learned to equate emotional safety with protecting ourselves from emotional hurt, which we try to ensure by not openly revealing our feelings and needs (neither those that are commonly referred to as negative e.g. anger, sadness, disappointment nor the positive ones e.g. happiness, joy, excitement). Most of us believe that we can protect our emotional safety by either not opening ourselves emotionally to others or by not openly receiving their emotions. However, what we actually achieve with protection is shutting ourselves off and by that we make ourselves even more susceptible to feeling hurt and isolated. Instead of increasing our level of emotional safety protection actually decreases our ability to meet that very need. While we are too busy trying to protect ourselves from vulnerability we are unable to realise that our emotional safety rests in our ability to be vulnerable.
Protection does not only decreases our chances of developing true emotional safety it also decreases our chances of true, genuine connection. How? Well, protection and connection work in diametrically opposite directions that is to say the more we protect emotionally the less able we are to experience true, genuine and deep connections. First and foremost when we try to protect ourselves we tend to suppress, numb and avoid any uncomfortable feelings (accidentally, when we try to numb the experience of pain in our life we also end up numbing the experience joy) and by doing so we are closing the door to self-connection. As we saw above if we are not connected with ourselves our chances of connecting with anyone else are hugely decreased and on top of that when we are protecting ourselves we are also highly unlikely to to be receptive to other people's feelings or to openly reveal what goes on within us. Therefore, protection is not only ineffective as a strategy for emotional safety it also disconnect us from ourselves as well as other people.
So the next time you are engaging with someone dear to you try to observe your behaviour. If that person says or does something that is not in line with your values notice what you feel. Is it irritation, frustration, hurt? And try to watch what you are doing. Are you trying to ignore or push those feelings aside? Are you trying to protect yourself by defending your position and opinion or by attacking? I believe that if you manage to pause for long enough to notice your behaviour, feelings and needs you might ask yourself: what am I doing here? Protecting myself. OK. And what do I actually want from this situation? If your answer is connection with my wife, child, etc. Then at least, I hope, you could remind yourself that you do not have to automatically react from your habitual protection mode, but that you have a choice to open yourself up vulnerably and in doing so open the door to connection with the other person.
Of course, like everything else this is the process of fine tuning between the level of vulnerability that still keeps you emotionally safe and the level of connection that is starting to go deeper than the surface. You rock the boat to the point that it can still safely sail, rather than to the point where you end up desperately trying to stabilise it and keep afloat which prevents it from sailing any further.