Dancing in the dark. It sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Most of the time it is. If we know how to dance (or aren’t afraid to learn as we go), are comfortable with ourselves, trust the person with whom we’re dancing, and are able to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, dancing in the dark is quite a lovely experience. Whether we’re swinging and swaying to The oldies, cutting a rug to the jitterbug, or taking a slow turn around the Livingroom floor with a soft ballad, dancing in the dark is a powerful means of making and developing connections.
Oftentimes, developing the connections we have just made – be it that of a friend, teammate, co-worker or even a family member with whom we’re trying to reconnect, – can feel as though we are trying to dance in the dark but with no idea what we are doing and a terrible fear that we’ll mess it up somehow.
So why do we do it?
Let’s take a look.
The Irresistible Need to Belong
Brene’ Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who specializes in social connection, said in an interview,
Think about all the times in your life when all you wanted was to be part of the In Crowd. Our childhoods and adolescences are rife with this longing.
Now, think about why you wanted so desperately to belong to this, that, or the other group.
Oftentimes, if our sense of safety and belonging at home – in our core family unit – is missing or not particularly solid, we begin to search for the missing pieces in an ever-widening circle outside of our families.
- Perhaps, we begin searching for the love and guidance of someone older to replace the love and guidance for that of our parents who just can’t seem to love us (or at least they never show their love in a way that we recognize, which is just as devastating when we’re not able to understand why).
- Perhaps, we long for the sibling relationship that we lack.
- Perhaps, we never feel as though we fit-in with the other members of our family or group of friends.
- Perhaps, we just can’t find anyone who tries to understand us – someone who wants to learn to speak our language.
The reasons for our search for a place to belong are limitless, so the task of understanding may be a daunting one. If we are to come to terms with what is fueling our craving to belong somewhere, we must complete the search for answers. We must understand why we do what we do in order to begin to redirect our course where necessary.
Barriers to Effective Communication when Developing Connections
External Barriers to effective communication
External barriers are, most often, the easiest to spot. There are all manner of technical or physical hinderances such as e-mail glitches, distance, time constraints, demands on one’s attention and time, and so forth.
These are also, usually, the easier of the two to work around or to understand when it comes to developing connections and nurturing relationships.
As long as these issues are not used consistently as an excuse for a refusal to develop a healthy relationship, everyone has been faced with these barriers when trying to communicate, so it’s easy to understand and forgive when these things happen to others in our relationships.
Internal Barriers to communicating effectively
Internal barriers are the ones we all seem so afraid of. Internal barriers arise from a deep-seeded fear of being vulnerable and open to attack. It is our mind’s way of trying to protect us from pain and of keeping us safe.
As Humans, we seem to have a built-in aversion to digging deeply inside ourselves to root out our fears, hurts, and grief. We shield ourselves from pain and try to push forward, mistakenly thinking that forward movement is the same as progress and growth.
How many times have you said, “Let’s just put this behind us and move on,”?
How has that worked out for you? Were things really resolved, or did this action simply compress the resentment into a more compact, more irritating albeit duller sensation you feel every time you have to deal with the other person in the broken relationship?
The fact is that if we do not hunt down the barriers (fears, hurts, pain, misunderstandings, experiences), face them directly, name them, and do something positive to resolve them, they never go away. We can put them behind us, but they follow us like a starving puppy who wants to be fed (and held and cared for). The longer we wait, the bigger the puppy gets until it’s a fully-grown attack dog biting us in the rear-end because it’s tired of being neglected and desperate for nourishment and attention.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a great relationship with an adorable, loyal puppy than a contentious, defensive one with a ravenous attack dog.
So, what now?
As Always, A Healthy Relationship Starts with You
FIRST OFF, THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP WE NEED TO DEVELOP IS THE ONE WE HAVE WITH OURSELVES.
Most of us have never really gotten to know who we are at our core. We have spent our lives trying to be the person that we’re supposed to be; the one that gets approval from the most people. Sometimes, we cultivate different versions of ourselves to match different circumstances or groups of people.
When I was in school, even through college, I would reveal a different side of myself to different people in different circumstances. For example: I was the Smart-but-Bored-Out-of-My-Skull girl who sat in the back of high school English Lit class and only answered questions when I couldn’t stand the blank stares from the rest of the class anymore and wanted to get things moving. “For crying out loud!” I’d scream to myself, “It’s not rocket science!”
In band, I was the shy, quiet one with the saxophone who never really felt like she belonged. Talk about Imposter Syndrome! In other situations, I forced myself to be friendly and outgoing or confident and capable or whatever else the circumstances required so as to be approved of and not make waves.
It wasn’t until I started classes in college (Uni to all you European readers), that I began to realize that I had no idea who I was. No idea what I really liked or that I had permission to not like something. I got tired of trying to fit in and make friends, so I began to make friends with myself, although I didn’t know at the time that’s what I was doing. I began asking myself the questions I wished other people would care enough to ask me.
What I found was that I really liked whom I was, the woman I had become in spite of the curves Life had thrown me. I discovered that I liked my sense of humor and could always count on myself to find the humor in any situation. I discovered that I really was as competent as I had been pretending to be.
In short, I took this time of self-discovery to dig deep. In the process, I discovered and developed the most important relationship with the most important person I’ll ever know – Me.
I became my own Best Friend.
Had I not 1) been open to learning, 2) trusted myself, 3) allowed myself to be vulnerable, and 4) allowed the experience of discovery to lead me in this dance in the darkness, I would never have developed this beautiful relationship, this life-long love.
Had I not taken the chance on the stranger in the mirror, I would never have learned what it takes to initiate, develop, and maintain such a beautiful relationship, therefore, I would not be able to do likewise for the other relationships in my life.
Developing Connections in All Areas of Your Life
As you begin to experience a better relationship with yourself, you will notice that the other relationships in your life will begin to change. You will begin to develop healthier relationships with your family, though since these are the closest and most vulnerable relationships, they may take a lot longer to develop.
As you see yourself in a different light, you will notice that you see others in a different light as well. You will probably notice that you relate to your office mates more as collaborators than as competition or lackeys. Teachers, you will begin to notice the many ways that your students have been trying to communicate with you and now you will be able to respond appropriately. Likewise with their parents and your fellow teachers. Whatever field you work in, you will notice a difference in how you relate to those around you.
During this coming week, let’s work on developing the connections we’ve made by
- making a list of the really important questions we wish people would ask us about ourselves.
- Work through this list of questions; asking and answering them ourselves. I find it helpful to take a long walk by myself, someplace where I won’t be disturbed, so that I can talk it through out loud. That sense of having a conversation creates an easy flow of thoughts and further questions that aren’t restrained by what we think we should say. After all, you are having an actual conversation with yourself, which is how true friendships develop.
- Now that you are getting a better idea of who you are and what makes you tick, start taking a look at how much of your answers are based on what is truly you and what is what you think you’re expected to say.
- Start thinking about what further questions you need to ask yourself to discover the real You. When I don’t really know what to ask myself, or if I feel afraid to go any further, I always just ask, “Why?”
- Finally, as we learn to develop a better, healthier relationship with ourselves, apply the same approach to the other relationships in your life. Ask the questions other people want to be asked. Regardless of whether the other person is a family member, co-worker, boss, neighbor, or stranger taking the time to get to know another person on a deeper level is never a bad thing.
Remember: as we move forward through this journey of self-awareness and take stock of our relationships, we have the power to make tremendous positive changes in our lives. Taking the time to review and realign our lives need not be a monumental task. As we are learning on our journey together, day by day we take another step towards our goal. If we are only able to take one step each day, we will have taken 365 steps this year towards healthier, happier relationships and towards a better, happier life.
Please share your insights with the community. Please leave a comment below or send a message through the contact page (this is a great place to practice and improve your effective communication skills).
All my best wishes,
Blogging, or journaling is a great way to think through all your revelations regarding your reasons for reacting and communicating like you do. Kayse’s blog post is a great place to start, whether you want to monetize your bloggings or not.
If you would like a structured format in which to put your thoughts, Click this link to check out The Ultimate Self-Awareness Journal to ACE-ing Effective Communication Skills in the shop.