Connection - You want it... Badly. A guide to being in healthy connection.
Connection is a basic human instinct – We’re not wrong to want it, but are we going about it in a healthy way?
“Can’t you see? I only do it because I love you so much!” … is something I used to say A LOT. I spent a long time in relationships feeling misunderstood and getting very angry. I was desperately trying to show love and I couldn’t understand why my partners would pull away or get frustrated at me. I would tear at my skin and writhe in my bed at the agony of believing that I didn’t know how to love right. I have diary entry after diary entry of “Why is he so angry at me when all I’m trying to do is love him?”
There are countless studies on the importance of connection for healthy human lives. Remaining connected starts off as a basic survival instinct; a newborn baby’s connection to their mother is a matter of live and death. As we grow, our need for connection adapts and becomes more complicated but remains critical to our health. A quick search online will unearth a treasure trove of studies on the science and neurobiology of connection - all fascinating if you are, like me, that way inclined.
As I grew up my need for connection became almost desperate and was mostly centred around one other, I jumped from one relationship to the next. I am writing from that place, where my experience with connection links uncomfortably close to intimate relationships. I was holding on for dear life.
I grew up in a fairly average, generally contented family. I have no horrific story of abandonment, which in its own way made it very difficult for me to put my finger on what was causing my destructive loving behaviours. I felt different in my family and so when I found someone that seemed to love me, and they validated the things I did and was interested in, I felt a sense of worthiness, for as long as the relationship lasted. And when it ended, I felt an even stronger sense that I was unlovable. Everything I do and am interested in is “boring”, “stupid”, “pointless”.
Here are some shitty behaviours that I am owning (you may recognise some of them) which I used to hold onto relationships and attempt to stay in connection, and how I mopped them up into healthy, clean actions that keep me in true connection with myself and others (most of the time).
1. Storming off, slamming doors, or sulking
Oh I know this so well. This behaviour can surface in different guises, from breaking doors, to simply not making eye contact. All the while I’m screaming inside, “ASK ME WHAT’S WRONG, FOR FUCK SAKE”. I wanted them to follow me and talk to me. Ultimately because I knew if we could talk we could find connection again, but I didn’t have that language then. But eventually they stop following, quite rightly, and the way back into connection is lost. It’s over.
What to do instead? It sounds so simple, but it is so hard to begin with; Ask for attention. When I know something’s wrong and I need to talk, in order to maintain connection with someone, I play a game, a race. I’ve got to speak up before they ask me what’s wrong. If they have to ask then I’ve probably been using manipulative behaviours rather than speaking clearly. So ask. Put on your big kid pants and ask for what you need. Tell them you need to talk, say you would like some attention or affection for a moment, come up with a code word, rub up against them if you need to (as long as that’s been established as your signal for attention). Own your need for attention and speak as clearly as you can.
2. Saying what they want to hear
Oh I know this one so well too. I guess that’s why I’m writing this article. Trying to figure out what someone else wants to hear is exhausting and over time can only lead to one thing; disconnection. Even if you stay in relationship with someone, you’ll still, ultimately, feel disconnected from him or her. Eventually it will be… over.
Instead – here it is… Speak your truth. Take a minute to get through your particular conditioning and get to the thing you want to say that comes from your guts and say it. Its fucking hard… but in the long run if they don’t like it, it really is better they leave because, as I just mentioned, even if you work hard to keep them close, you’ll never feel connected anyway. If someone can accept your truth and love you for sharing in your vulnerability, then you can truly find connection. This goes both ways, be prepared for them to tell you what you don’t want to hear, when it’s their truth.
3. Always needing them to validate you
This is the “if they love me then I must be worthy of love” voice and it shows up in the little details of life. Needing validation can manifest as working yourself to the bone to progress in a career or impress your parents, pushing a relationship to progress faster then feels good, needing tokens of commitment or gifts in order to be happy, etc. And when things don’t go your way, your self worth is hanging on a knife-edge. It can’t go on that way.
Here is a good place to bring up the pedestal. Notice if you may hold regard for this person above your own self. I mean, even if they are really great, kind, humble, gorgeous, even then, who the fuck are they to tell you if you’re worthy of love or not? Think about it.
Instead I learned that all of this had to come from myself. I had to learn to love myself unconditionally. To accept myself for exactly where I am and who I am. I came to a deep knowing that I am so utterly worthy in my own right. This is where Shadow Work did wonders for me personally. I couldn’t be saying or doing what I do, or be in the beautiful relationship I’m in now without digging here under the guidance of expert Shadow Work coaches. There are other ways, but this is what worked for me.
The need for validation is a slippery vice. So just a note; be careful where this need may transfer itself. Mine currently depends on the number of likes I have on Instagram. I’m working on it, and probably always will be in some way!
4. Playing Victim, perpetrator or rescuer
The victim, perpetrator, rescuer dynamic is a form of unhealthy connection. They each need the other to ‘function’. It’s a hard way to love but some times it’s how loving was modelled to us growing up. I fell into rescuer. I showed love by trying to save someone. I would spend so much of my energy metaphorically padding the room, putting soft rubber on all the sharp edges of life for other people. I’d put the work in to make things easier for my partner, but not in a healthy way. I brewed resentment, anger and spite. It was over.
Instead, I do the only thing I can do, which is to look after myself. I put the work in to make things easier for myself. I worked the wounding around this and deeply let go of the need to fix others and to understand that they do not, in fact, need fixing. I connect with myself, I work out what I need primarily and I give it to myself. I still need to ask myself sometimes, “if they asked me to… would I do it” if the answer is yes then I damn well do it for myself. This connection with myself has made my connection with others and my ability to care for others more authentic and far more sustainable.
5. Playing tit for tat out of spite, mirroring shitty behaviour
My version of this surfaced as an inner dialogue that goes “Well fuck you then, if you’re going to just … then so am I, let’s see how you like it.” Eurgh, just thinking about the days I spend doing that makes me feel tired. This behaviour never leads to connection and it is when this voice starts to speak that I catch myself and ask myself “what is it that I really need right now” and the answer is always “oh! I need to connect with them”.
So here’s a suggestion, which I’ve just come up with, so this is as much for me as it is for you. Mirror something you love about the person you’re trying to connect to. What is it you love about them? Maybe their playfulness, their willingness to let go and laugh, their connection to their sexuality, their self expression? Notice that about them, and find a way to join in, mirroring at first and then adopting that behaviour in your own unique style. Sink into the joy of connecting in that way.
The fact that this writing has just flowed out of me has taught me a lot about myself. I had never quite realised how much emphasis I put on relationships to fulfil my need for connection. So, I’m going to stretch to a number 6.
6. Expecting one person to answer all of your needs
They cannot possibly, and you cannot possibly do this for someone else. You may have learned that this is what love looks like as a child, especially if your parents are still together, which mine are. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised how important my mum’s sisters are to her, and my dad’s friends at work. But the pattern was already deeply ingrained. As a child it looked to me like they only had each other. Oh, and don’t get me started on Disney’s prince charming… that’s another article.
Connection is so much more than relationships. It’s connection to yourself, to others in the community, to nature and to someone in a relationship. For me, it’s in that order. Connection is essential to survival, like food and air. Of course it’s going to be scary if that provision is in someone else’s hands. Take it back into your own, very capable hands and see how your actions shift to coming from love rather than fear.