I heard this statement while listening to a podcast recently, and it made me think about what I teach my students all the time…about how we are wired for empathy and connection.
As humans, we crave connection.
Historically, back in our hunter/gatherer days, to be excommunicated from the tribe was tantamount to a death sentence. In this case, loneliness quite literally killed.
But what about today, and the slow death of our spirit when we feel alone, isolated, misunderstood.
Apparently, this is a bigger problem than anyone realized, and it’s only getting bigger.
According to the CDC, suicide is a leading cause of death overall in the United States, having jumped 24% in 5 years to it’s highest rate ever.
It is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that it is highest among white males, which accounted for nearly 80% of all suicide deaths in 2017.
Suicide isn’t the only number that is rising. According to USA Today, the number of deaths from alcohol and drugs, as well as suicide, are at an all-time high.
Ok, so that’s some no-so-pretty news. Now, what do we do with this information?
While there may be a lot of different factors that play into a person’s decision to take their own life, I always like to look at what I believe is the root cause of something.
I would venture to say the one thing most if not all who resort to such extreme measures might have in common is a deep sense of loneliness… feeling all alone in what they are going through.
It doesn’t matter how many friends and family one has. It isn’t about how many people are around. Have you ever felt lonely even in a room full of people?
It is my belief that a deep sense of loneliness, isolation and of being misunderstood is the unspoken, unnamed epidemic in our society today.
With the advent of the internet and social media, we are in some ways more connected than ever before. And yet the numbers tell a different story.
What’s missing is TRUE CONNECTION.
Partly because social media has made hiding behind the social mask easier than ever, and partly because we are lacking any kind of real education or training in communication and relationships.
Think about it. There are some who try to have entire relationships via text message alone.
We need each other. Yet we are feeling more isolated then ever before.
I’m a firm believer that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten. And if we don’t bring back love and connection, or learn how to cultivate love and connection, we’re just going to feel more and more isolated and alone individually, and in society as a whole.
Here are 3 ways you can experience more love and connection in your life.
Stephen Covey taught this as one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This may seem counterintuitive, at first glance, but if we’re all going into our interactions trying to be seen, heard, and understood, but nobody is listening to the other person, nobody feels heard.
Often, the more we try to make ourselves heard—by raising our voices, repeating ourselves, or trying to say it a different way—the more frustrated both parties become.
But if we go into our interactions with a level of maturity and patience that allows us to seek first to understand the other person before we even try to dive into our own stuff, we are much more likely to feel heard in the end.
Everyone wants to feel “gotten”. Remember, we are all craving connection.
Once that need is met, we don’t feel like we have to fight for it anymore.
It’s kinda like oxygen. As long as it’s there in the room, we don’t even think about it. The need for oxygen has been met. But the minute it’s sucked out of the room, it’s all we care about. We can’t even think about anything else until we have oxygen again. We need it to survive.
Connection, and the need to feel seen, heard and understood, is like that.
Often, until that need is met, we don’t care about anything else.
Once we feel understood, we relax. We feel cared for. And we naturally, and easily, soften and open to the other person, making it easier for us, in turn, to listen to them.
But that is not what most of us have been taught to do. Almost everybody goes into their interactions insistent upon being understood and, in the end, often nobody ends up getting that need met.
And that sense of loneliness, isolation, and being misunderstood continues.
To experience more love and connection in your life, seek first to understand the other person, so much so that they know they are understood, before even trying to be understood yourself. Try this out and see what happens in your relationships. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
2. Be of service.
One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was the time I spent working with the homeless.
When I started I was in a particularly lost and lonely time in my life, desperate to find some meaning. I took a low-paying job creating and teaching courses for homeless adults. I taught them about self-love and acceptance, emotional intelligence, communication & relationships—drawing from my communication degree to help raise their self-esteem, overcome emotional confusion and overwhelm, and be more effective in their relationships, and in their lives.
I ended up working with abused women and recovering addicts at other shelters, and then eventually with people from within the local communities.
The experience filled me up because I was sharing myself with others. I was giving with no expectation of anything in return.
Ok, yes, in this scenario it was a full-time job, so I was collecting a paycheck. But It wasn’t about the money, because I was making very little, and it wasn’t about the prestige or status, because it wasn’t glamorous work. I had taken a huge cut in pay to work in a dusty, crowded space that took me an hour of travel time, each way, to get to every day.
But I knew I was making a difference, which made me realize I had value. If nothing else I was helping them to feel seen and heard and understood. Working with the homeless taught me to become a better listener, to be more compassionate and less judgmental.
I discovered my love for and gift for teaching.
My cup was quite literally filled to overflowing, and I knew I’d never be the same. My life was forever changed by that experience.
There are many ways to be of service:
And notice how good and full you feel afterward.
This is because giving and receiving are the same. By giving something we are saying to the Universe “I have this to offer”, and there is an interesting boomerang effect. Energetically, when we put out into the world, we get back.
If you want more love and connection, find ways to go out and give love and connection.
If you choose to believe, based on interpretations you’ve made from past experiences, that there is a lack of love and connection, that is what you will get back—a lack of love and connection.
The same is true of tithing, or financial donations. If you give five dollars to a worthy cause, that decision can only come from a place of abundance—from a belief that you have it to give. Unless there is something blocking you from that flow, abundance is what you will receive.
Don’t take my word for any of this. Go out there and test the theory.
3. Do your best, and let that be enough
This is what I tell my students all the time—whether it's on your yoga mat or elsewhere in your life. Do your best and let that be enough.
Nothing makes one want to buckle under the weight of life more than their own self-recrimination.
Studies are now showing that shame plays a much deeper role in addiction and suicide than anyone ever realized.
We tend to be way too hard on ourselves. Self-acceptance. Self-forgiveness. These need to become a part of our daily practice—like brushing our teeth or showering.
In fact, what a great time to practice. While in the shower you can let the water wash away those things you wish you had done better. Learn from your mistakes and then let them go.
While looking into the mirror you can remind yourself you’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.
A super-simple mantra to reaffirm over and over again is: I AM ENOUGH.
You don’t have to DO anything to be lovable, valuable…enough.
Your value is in who you are, not in what you do.
Perhaps the greatest human tragedy is how many of us have bought into two of the most prevalent false beliefs:
What I’ve discovered in my 20 years as a life coach and conscious living educator is that if you dig deep enough into a person’s pain and suffering, deep into the subconscious beliefs they have about themselves and the world, one or both of these beliefs reside there.
Sometimes it’s hard to see, because it all subconscious.
Until those beliefs are examined and the plug is pulled, they will enjoy superficial peace and happiness at best.
In order to enjoy the kind of authentic, deep connection we as humans crave, we must begin with our relationship with ourselves, because everything stems from that.
These 3 simple strategies will help you start to feel more love and connection in your relationships, and elsewhere in your life. Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. Be in service, and realize that you have something to offer the world. Remember, giving and receiving are the same. If you want more love, go out and give it. And remember, you need do nothing. You are enough.