Human connection is to the soul as water is to our physical body – essential for our survival. It runs in our veins and drives our decisions, whether we are aware of it or not. As a species, we are wired to connect.
The lack of a sense of belonging is detrimental to our mental well-being. If you don’t feed your soul, it will let you know with fears and anxieties, just like your stomach growls when it’s hungry. Total deprivation of social connection may lead to a deep depression, just like hunger leads to starvation and physical decline. Think of a prison. It’s been designed since ancient times to be one of the harshest forms of punishment. The worst part of it is not physical pain. It’s social isolation.
The Risky Road to Connection: Why You Must Dare to Be Yourself
In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.
– Henry Miller
German social psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, best known for his book The Art of Loving, outlines the two ways human beings try to overcome the “unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness” that’s built in to us by nature. Reading several of his books helped me recognize and explain my own patterns of behavior and emotion that I was going through in different periods of life, and to justify and feel stronger about my newfound way of being and interacting with others.
The “safe” road of pleasing others
One of the ways we try to overcome our sense of loneliness is by what Fromm calls the “surrender of individuality,” where we seek to eliminate the gap we feel between our own selves and the world around us. In other words, we try to please others at the expense of our own needs and desires. On the surface, this seems to be a safer road because we think that others are more likely to accept us if we do what they expect of us.
Yet in the end, this way can never succeed in making us feel one with the world, because it starts from a place of denial, where we try to suppress the fundamental separateness of us as individuals. In trying to escape from the insufferable situation of our solitude, we end up surrendering the integrity of our individual selves. This can never lead to happiness and positive freedom. It might assuage an unbearable anxiety, but it does nothing to resolve the underlying problem.
The risky adventure of being yourself
Fromm says that we can only fully connect with the world when we arrive at a sense of positive freedom, where we can relate spontaneously to the world through the full and genuine expression of our “emotional, sensuous and intellectual capacities.” We become one again with nature, each other, and ourselves, without giving up the independence of our individual selves.
But to get there, we need to take the risk of exposing our essence in front of the roaring crowds. It is much easier to hide behind the mask. You have to have the guts to speak up for what you believe in. It’s hard. Many of us continue to question our own values, and it takes time to build confidence. The key is to find that balance between providing a great value to community and not losing your own personality in the process.
How I stopped living for others and found my freedom
I used to be one of those people-pleasers. I must admit I was pretty good at it too, until I got tired, worn out, and found myself getting easily irritated, while hiding it all by bottling up my resentment.
When inner despair was not enough, my body decided to break down. I was having fevers without any symptoms of cold or infection. My doctor told me I was faking it. I didn’t know humans had the power to control the temperature of our bodies — but the doctor was at least right in one respect. I was faking something. I was faking my own happiness in order to please everybody around me. I was sacrificing myself to make their lives a paradise.
It took some rude awakenings, and I traversed a difficult period where I was forced to face my demons head on, and to learn to heal myself. Over time, I gained my confidence back, after I learned to listen to that inner voice and to follow its advice instead of trying to meet all the expectations of others. When I finally accepted and connected all the parts of my being, my vision cleared.
Looking back, I can say that despite the purest intentions, I had taken the wrong road. I was lying to myself and others and believed my own lies. I was an obedient child and diligent student who was raised to be empathetic and considerate of others. Submission was something I was used to. The last thing I ever wanted was to disappoint anybody. The benefits were great – I was adored, admired and praised for it. People were attracted to my looks and achievements. I “had it all,” but I felt empty inside. I surrendered my inner happiness to others, and realized that they were too busy caring about their own.
I believed I had a good life, until I finally got a taste of a happy life.
The “safe” road to nowhere, or the risky road to well-being
You can take a “safe” road to try to connect with others. You will be accepted by most people, but don’t expect to be accepted by all. You will be rarely judged, and rarely cared for. People will love what you do, as long as it benefits them. The more recognition you’ll want, the more control over your life you’ll need to give to others.
Or you can choose to take the risk of being yourself. You will get more pressure from peers. You may feel lonely and misunderstood at times. If you don’t fit into the box of social “standards,” you will be judged by many and accepted by few. This is a more challenging route to take, because it jeopardizes the instinct to connect with others. But in the long run, it will be the most rewarding, because it’s the only way to truly connect with yourself.
Switching roads may mean losing some friends and giving up old relationships. It will also mean finding new relationships, which will be more genuine and satisfying, and most importantly – finding yourself.
Choose your road
|Safe road of pleasing others||Risky adventure of being yourself|
|The way you look||Society sets the standards of beauty for you. If you are not sure what they are, watch the commercials and find them in magazines.
You are supposed to have photoshop-flawless skin. Wrinkles and blemishes are not allowed.
Your body is an object of sexual attraction. It better be slim with your stomach flat even when you sit.
You are not worthy of attention unless you look like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.
|Stop believing that you have to suffer in order to be beautiful. You have to work on it, yes, in unison with nature, to preserve what it’s given to you, but not against it.
There are many shapes and forms of beauty.
You are beautiful the way you are.
Healthy is gorgeous.
Your body is a temple where your spirit resides. Treat it gently and with care.
A smile makes you prettier than lipstick.
Happiness is the best beautifier.
It’s better to have wrinkles on your face than in your soul.
|Things you possess||Your possessions define your image.
Fashion tells you what to wear.
Status dictates you what car to drive and what house to buy.
|Your personality defines who you are.
You can wear whatever you like, whatever you find comfortable and whatever pleases your taste.
You are happy with or without any of your possessions.
|What you do||You are only supposed to do what makes the most money.
Your worth will be defined as your net worth.
|Do what makes you happy.
Do what brings you joy.
Whatever you do, do it with love and passion.
|What you say/how you express yourself||Small talk and flattery is what will get you there on a way to success.
Nobody is interested in your story. Your problems are your own.
Don’t talk about your achievements either, others will get jealous and will hate you.
Don’t voice your opinion.
Don’t ask for anything.
|Share your story.
Say how you feel.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Express yourself without fear of being ridiculed or judged.
Enjoy the pleasure of being heard, understood and cared for.
|How you choose friends||Hang out only with those who can provide some benefits for you. Whether it is connections (isn’t it what we are striving for?), money, status, possessions or anything else.||Choose people who accept you the way you are and bring the best out of you. People who encourage and believe in you.
Best friends are those who are there for you through good times and bad times. Surround yourself with empathetic listeners and genuine cheerleaders.
|Connections you get||Lots of shallow acquaintances and connections that will fall apart once you stop providing benefits for them.
People will need you.
|A few deep and rock-solid friendships that will last a lifetime.
People will love you.
|Your values||You have to inherit the values set by society:
money, power, success, struggle, achievements
|You keep your inner values. Rather change your tribe than suppress your vibes:
love, kindness, peace, joy, happiness
|Who you are inside||Suffering from anxieties. Covering up for insecurities.
Always comparing yourself with others. Putting others down in order to win and to be right.
Placing a lot of effort in maintaining an image of a perfect life.
|Humble and confident.
Building others up.
Putting your energy into self-development.
Being gentle and forgiving on yourself and others.
Loving, caring, genuine, kind.