We live in a generation where we often feel we can only connect with certain groups and cliques, but we need to overcome these barriers that we create in ourselves and realise it’s possible to form a meaningful relationship with anyone we meet in life. Having been ill these past few years it has meant I haven’t had the opportunity to meet lots of different people my age or lifestyle, like someone might do at university. Instead I’ve been very limited to the number of people I meet, but by not restricting myself to a certain “group”, “age”, or “clique”, and by using all the following tips in this post, I have found I’ve been able to connect with practically everyone I meet, even if there is a big age gap or we are both at very different points in our lives. If we limit ourselves to thinking we can only connect with people like us then we are cutting off so many potential social connections and you might often find your friendships become very limited, and it is then likely you might start to feel very lonely. However, it is possible to connect with anyone and everyone you meet.
As human’s we are naturally social creatures; we crave feeling connected to one another and thrive in giving and receiving love. Social connection is critical to our health and well-being, and it is proven that those with strong social networks and support groups are happier and healthier. Our deeply connected relationships give us true meaning and purpose in life.
There may be many times in your life when you feel lonely and unable to connect with people. Often when people move away from friends and family they feel lonely as they are physically isolated from their support network, for example, when you go to university, move cities, or go travelling. Or it could be when others move away from you, say for example when all your friends go off to university but you’re left behind at home. Or it could be a life event has happened, such as illness, bereavement, life changes or stress from school, work or relationship difficulties, and therefore you are struggling to connect with your old friends as you might feel they do not understand. Although feeling lonely is a horrible experience, there are ways to help you connect with not only those around you, but anyone you meet by using the following tips:
Common human experience – We often look at other people and immediately notice the differences between ourselves such as age, gender, religion, different skin colour, cultural-background, wealth, appearance, or disability. By focusing on the differences rather than the similarities between you and the other person it is harder to relate and connect to one another. Instead of looking at others from secondary differences, you can approach individuals by focusing on the basic things which we have in common. We all have a body, a mind, we are all born the same way and all die the same way, and all of us want happiness and want to avoid suffering. We all feel the emotions of happiness, pain, love, loneliness, fear, loss, sadness, and joy. Meeting someone with this approach means you can relate to everyone because we are all the same! When you focus on these similarities it makes you have an instant connection.
“There’s a wonderful program called Challenge Day that provides a powerful experience of common humanity for adolescents. The program puts a group of high school students through a daylong series of activities designed to promote feelings of connectedness with their peers. In this exercise called “Lines that divide us”, for example, teens are asked to line up on one side of the school gym. Then, a team leader calls out a series of painful experiences and asks people to cross over to the other side of the gym if they’ve ever had that experience. Each event is called out slowly, providing ample time for everyone to see who among them has suffered as they have. “Please cross the line if you’ve ever felt hurt or judged because of the colour of your skin… Been humiliated in a classroom by a teacher or a student… Been bullied or teased or hurt for wearing glasses, braces, a hearing aid… for the way that you talked, for the clothes that you wore, or for the shape, size, or appearance of your body.” At some point, almost every single person in the room crosses the line, making it vividly clear that all teens suffer from judgemental cruelly at one point or another. Typically, even the toughest kids will tear up after participating in the exercise, as compassion flows for themselves and others. The experience shatters the imaginary walls that make teens feel all alone, allowing them to realise that their sense of isolation has been an illusion, and lessening the chance of conflicts between them.” (Taken from “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff).
Broaden your definition of intimacy – When we think of intimacy, a lot of us immediately think about a partner, a person whom we share a passionate romantic relationship with – that special someone who we set apart from the others and share all our deepest secrets with. We focus all our energy on finding that one person who we hope will heal our loneliness and who we believe will make everything okay, like finding the last piece of the puzzle for our happiness. The problem with this though is that throughout your lifetime you may be without a partner, and even when you think you’ve found “the one” it doesn’t always work out. This means we are putting a lot of faith in a connection that is unreliable and not always there or what we expect. You might feel that unless you have this kind of relationship in your life that something is missing. This can cause much misery and unhappiness when that “special someone” isn’t there because you’ve cut off other potential intimate relationships. By broadening our definition of intimacy and opening ourselves up to others, we can discover many new and equally satisfying relationships from friends, family members, and even strangers. By doing this it will mean when you go through the inevitable periods in your life when you’re not involved in a romantic relationship, you will always have genuine and deep bonds with other people throughout your life and you will never be relying on just one person to have that intimate connection with.
Put yourself in their shoes – It’s very easy to judge someone and their decisions without a second thought, but to understand them and the decisions they make you need to understand their story. It is extremely helpful to be able to try to put yourself in the other person’s place and see things from their perspective. Even if it’s almost impossible to imagine what they’re going through, especially if they have a very different lifestyle to you, you can still try through imagination. By doing this it helps develop empathy for that person and makes you realise most situations and people are not always as black and white as it may first seem. Below is an example of what happens when you look past initial appearances and put yourself in their shoes:
There are two people in Delhi getting a taxi, suddenly one of them shouts, “Stop the taxi”, he points to the meter and yells, “You didn’t reset the meter! There was over twenty rupees on the meter when we started!”. The taxi driver replied “So sorry sir, I forgot to reset it… I will restart”. “You’re not starting anything” the customer replied, “I’m fed up of being ripped off”, his friend looked at him embarrassed. They both got out the car and the man continued to say how unfair it was to his friend and how fed up he was, his friend replied, “Well, twenty rupees is only around a quarter. Why get so worked up?”. The friend replied “but it’s the principle that counts! Why doesn’t it bother you?”. “Well,” she said slowly, “it did for a minute, but I started thinking about what we were talking about at lunch, about the Dalai Lama saying how important it is to see things from another’s perspective. While you were getting worked up, I tried to think about what I might have in common with the cabdriver. We both want good food to eat, to sleep well, to feel good, to be loved, and so on. Then, I tried to imagine myself as the cabdriver. I sit in a stifling cab all day without air conditioning, maybe I’m angry and jealous of rich foreigners, and the best way I can come up to try to make things fair, to be happy, is to derive ways to cheat people out their money. But the thing is, even when it works, and I squeeze a few extra rupees out of unsuspecting tourists, I can’t imagine that it’s a very satisfying way to be happier or a very satisfying life… Anyway, the more I imagined myself as the cabdriver, somehow the less angry I was at him. His life just seems sad, I mean, I still don’t agree with what he did and we were right to get out the cab, but I just couldn’t get worked up enough to hate him for it.” (Taken from “The art of happiness” by Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler).
See both the negatives and positives in others – When you first meet someone whom you are strongly attracted to there is often the tendency to see them as having 100% good qualities. You might say to your friends how perfect they are and you become overwhelmed with all the good things about them. But after a while you start to discover some negative things about them and the perfect picture you built falls apart. It’s not that the person you liked has changed, it’s the fact that you first looked at them with a false perspective. Just like when you are angry at someone or someone has done something to hurt you, you might perceive them as having 100% bad qualities. But both perceptions do not correspond with reality. The reality is nobody is 100% bad, and nobody is 100% good. Even if you feel someone is completely negative that is due to your own perception based on your mental projection, rather than the true nature of that individual. They must have some good qualities if you search hard enough. In the same way, a situation that you perceive as 100% negative will always have some positive aspects to it. Nothing is ever black and white, and by remembering this you will be able to create healthier relationships with others based on realistic expectations, and be able to have hope when bad situations arise as you will know there will be something good in it.
Show kindness – If you approach others with the attitude of compassion and kindness, you immediately create a positive, friendly atmosphere. This warmth creates a kind of openness which allows you to communicate much more easily with other people. It also creates a feeling of trust from other people and allows the possibility of a more meaningful conversation to take place. Without this attitude, if you are feeling closed, angry, indifferent or irritated, you shut off that opportunity to have a meaningful conversation and connection with the other person. When you talk to someone who has this negative attitude, you immediately pick up that negativity yourself and you feel less inclined to want to talk to them. But if you hold a positive attitude of loving kindness when you approach others, whether they respond kindly to you or not, you will feel a lot better in yourself knowing you were kind to them. The easiest way to feel compassion towards others, whether they are a friend or someone who dislike, is to view them from the common human experience as previously discussed. Talking to someone from the basic human commodity allows you to create the opportunity to connect with that person.
Be open and honest with others – This is not to say you give your life story to everyone you meet and tell them everything that is going wrong with your life, it simply means if you want more than a superficial relationship with someone you need to let them in and be honest with how things really are. This will allow you to create more meaningful relationships. At the same time when something good happens also feel open to share this with others. Sharing the good times also creates an intimacy as others can enjoy your happiness!
I hope you find these tips useful and you can feel connected to not only those around you but to anyone you meet, because after all we are all human beings.
Metta, E xx