Yes, it is true. As a society we are losing the ability to make human connections. Take a glance around the room at any gathering and you will see dozens of people staring at their phones at what is supposed to be a social event. You go out to dinner and witness entire families, ostensibly out dining together, not conversing at all but instead glued to their respective devices. The virtual realm now commands our attention to such a degree that we have become slavishly addicted. Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook seem to have conspired to subvert human interaction, sacrificing real-life human connections in favor of pixelated ones.
Years of this smart phone behavioral modification—with the “likes,” comments, and silly videos acting as the stimuli to cement ever-increasing amounts of attention toward a phone—has resulted in superficial connections supplanting authentic human connection. Is it no wonder that so many of us now struggle to even recognize what the word connection really means?
The thing is, human beings are not machines. The heart and soul of a human person yearn for meaningful connections in our everyday lives. Handheld computers may be useful, even essential, to successfully functioning in our modern society, but they can’t hold a candle to what the human heart is capable of delivering via an authentic connection. But, it’s hard to know what you don’t know.
Instead, the innate desire for connection goes unfulfilled, culminating in a sense of feeling rudderless, unmoored, searching for something they can’t define. The cell phone has become like a deep bottomless pool into which they stare, seeking something, anything, to fill them up, but swiping away on Tinder just doesn’t cut it.
The dichotomy is clear—although we need human connection, it’s in our DNA, we also fear it. For sure, a genuine connection involves a certain amount of vulnerability. That exposure to your soul, your faults, your weaknesses, your history, your story, can be downright frightening. Shallow online “friendships” feel nice and safe, where opening the Pandora’s box of the soul can be terrifying. But it’s only by allowing ourselves to open up and let someone truly know you, faults and all, that an honest connection can ever be made.
In a culture that is being shaped by ever increasing exposure to the virtual world, we may need some help forming solid, deep connections with people. Here are 6 suggestions that can help us practice the lost art of connecting.
- Take control of phone time. You can’t make a new acquaintance if your face is always parallel to the ground. Once you recognize how your attention and cell phone posture does not foster meeting people, the next step is to start self-disciplining. While standing in line at the bank, the post office, or the pizza place, resist the urge to whip out your phone to pass the time. Instead, practice mindfulness. Take in the scene. Observe the people around you. Say something nice to someone, or just flash a smile. Open yourself up to seeing others and let yourself be seen in return.
- Make eye contact. Make an effort to look into the eyes of people you interact with throughout the day. This doesn’t mean gazing longingly into the eyes of the produce guy at Trader Joe’s and expect to form a connection; it just means that by practicing eye contact you are taking on a posture of openness. That is the first step of ever connecting with someone, to allow yourself to be open to possibilities, to making new friends, and to learning new things. Eye contact allows a glimpse into another’s soul, and your own.
- Manage fear. If your first impulse is to escape a social scene that is uncomfortable, resist the temptation to flee. Fear of the unknown, fear of saying something stupid, fear of small talk, fear of allowing anyone seeing beyond a carefully cultivated façade—all of these fears should be put into a box. Do not allow fear to sabotage opportunities to make a connection with an interesting person. You may wander in to a really stimulating conversation about something you are passionate about, connect over it, and make a new friend in the process.
- Assess risk. This means that you should have a tight connection with your own gut and listen to it. The gut, or intuition, is (almost) always right in matters of the heart. Be choosy with who you allow in to the deeper caverns of your soul. Take time to get to know someone before intimacy subverts the important phase of vetting. If you pay attention to your gut and acknowledge red flags, chances are you will get pretty good at sifting out people in your life that are not assets. Once you find someone who you can trust with your heart, open that door up and let them take a peek at your essence, and vice versa. This is how connecting happens.
- See the beauty in others. Nothing stokes human connection like the awareness of other peoples’ gifts. Allow yourself to see each person with fresh eyes. Instead of dwelling on the flaws, identify one amazing trait about a person. With social media being all about competition and curating that false image of perfection, reject that in favor of the real humans that are all around you. Admire someone’s smile, another’s wit, and yet another’s humble demeanor. Look for something special in the people you interact with and this will help you be your real self in return.
- Allow someone to care for you. Many of us simply don’t feel all that loveable. We may struggle to understand why someone would even want us. These attitudes are usually the result of deep pain associated with negative childhood experiences that cultivated a low sense of self. When you take steps to see your own value, how you no only have the capacity to love but deserve to be loved back, you will incrementally get closer to connectiveness with a partner. First see yourself as a treasure with much to offer in a relationship, and then give that special someone the key.
PeoplePsych is a team of psychotherapists serving the Chicago region in offering compassionate guidance for clients wanting to make positive changes in their lives. Our highly skilled therapists can assist you in overcoming the fear of vulnerability to experience authentic connections with others. Contact PeoplePsych today at (312) 448-7218.