How to Connect with People
Figuring out how to connect with people is a matter of deep concern throughout the course of life. But getting the connection that we want with others isn’t always easy!
The challenges people face in getting the connection with others that they want vary immensely. In this post, I’ll be focusing on those connections that involve deep intimacy and acceptance, in forms like romantic love, deep friendship and family bonds.
Most people would readily agree that connecting with others in these profound ways is a key part of what makes us human. Such connections are also often among the most meaningful of human experiences. Why is it, then, that this issue of how to connect with people can often give us so much trouble?
Barriers to Connection (in Ourselves)
There are many kinds of barriers to connection that can stand between us and connecting to others, whether that connection is romantic in nature or an intimate friendship. Many of these barriers have to do with fear.
Fear is probably the single most powerful motivator, as research by University of Illinois social psychologist Melanie Tannenbaum et al. seems to demonstrate. And, as /a-midlife-transitions are very aware, fear doesn’t have to be conscious to be very potent in our lives. In fact, some of the most powerful fears that we have are often unconscious.
Fear of intimacy is a most powerful form of human fear. Most often, this is linked to the fear of being vulnerable. What if I get connected to someone, and they genuinely see who I really am — and they reject me or shame me for being myself? A risk like that can seem simply too great to bear. That is particularly true if I have a very unstable relationship with myself; if I’m ashamed of, or intensely dislike, myself, it’s very unlikely that I’m going to want to take the risk of rejection or shaming by a lover or friend.
I may also fear failure or loss in a relationship. What if I give my heart or commitment to a friend or lover, and then I lose them? What the connection or intimacy between us is actually good, maybe even wonderful, but then the person goes away, or passes away, or just gives up on the relationship? Anyone would find this extremely painful, but for some people, it’s a risk that they can’t even think about taking — often because of very painful losses in relationship that they have already had in their lives.
On the other hand, we may be subject to fear of commitment. This is most common in romantic relationships, but is not exclusively confined to them. The individual may fear the loss of freedom that commitment in a relationship would bring. This fear is often rooted in past experiences of being in suffocating relationships, whether in the family of origin, or in subsequent romances or friendships.
We could go on and on listing “dis-connectors”, but I will end with one very powerful one: the psychological mechanism of projection. Projection is something that the psyche does to protect us from anxiety. We can transfer our difficult emotions and the unacceptable parts of ourselves onto the beloved or the friend, seeing that negative characteristic as belonging to them. This may help us feel less uneasy about ourselves, but it often generates huge distances between people.
Running Away from Soulful Connection
We can often completely sidestep the question of how to connect with people. The way we do this is by going through the motions, avoiding real connection with others, and staying completely unconscious of what we’re doing to sabotage genuine relatedness. In this way, we can completely thwart any chance for real intimacy.
It’s very difficult to individuate, to become who we truly are, in isolation. Yet we can often be in relationship in a way that both avoids in-depth encounter with the other, while simultaneously avoiding the more difficult parts of ourselves. This can be particularly apparent for us, as we wrestle with key transitions in our lives, such as the midlife transition.
Often, the painful parts of relationship, and the ways in which we experience disconnect with the other serve to bring us back to ourselves. The ways in which we avoid the other very often have to do with the ways in which we unconsciously connive to avoid ourselves. If we can stand to see ourselves the way that the other sees and experiences us, we may learn some essential things about ourselves in relationship, and about who we most fundamentally are.
James Hollis, speaking of projection and our individual journey towards wholeness, puts it like this:
Projections embody what is unclaimed or unknown within ourselves. Life has a way of dissolving projections, and one must, amid the disappointment and desolation, begin to take on the responsibility for one’s own satisfaction. There is no one out there to save us… [b]ut there is a very fine person within, one we barely know, ready and willing to be our constant companion.James Hollis, The Middle Passage
The Way of Connection
At its most fundamental, the challenge of connecting with others is tightly connected with the challenge of connecting with ourselves. Jungians emphasize that the goal of human life is individuation, that is, becoming who we most fundamentally are. Yet, he was equally emphatic that we need connection with others to individuate (and, simultaneously, that individuating enables better more authentic connection with others).
Depth case studies provides a safe, supportive environment to explore issues of relationship, and our inner barriers to intimacy and connection. It also offers solid insight and support for individuals as they wrestle with the key questions of how to connect with people. Continuing to become more conscious of how we show up in relationship is an essential part of Jungian work, as well as a key part of the journey towards wholeness.