"Loneliness does not come from not having people around you - but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you" - carl jung
We seem to have forgotten how to listen. We think we are listening, but we are, in fact, not listening. We sit in a car next to someone, go out to dinner with friends, or talk on the phone with someone, and we are hearing them, but we are not listening. Because if we were listening, conversations wouldn’t start with “I” all the time. We wouldn’t reply to someone with simply how it relates to us or unintentionally try to one up the other person.
I was recently in a conversation with a few other people when something caught my ear. I noticed that what was happening really wasn’t a conversation at all. It was a hodge podge of “I-statements” simply replying to the other’s “I” with another “I” or “my”. The people in this conversation weren’t talking about a particular subject with collaborated ideas, questions for each other or learning more about another perspective. Instead, each statement was being replied to by a statement about the person talking.
I was baffled. How did I just now notice this? How long had this been going on? These were both questions I had in my head. The answer, I think, is that it’s been going on for awhile and not by the fault of any one particular thing, person, or community. In a world full of opportunities of communication, we talk, text, email, chat, IM, or snapchat with each other often times hundreds of time during the day; however, we are not connected to this person. Because if we were connected, this kind of conversation wouldn’t be enough. If we were connected to people, conversations wouldn’t be about you. They would be about the connection you have with that other person and genuinely trying to get to know them or where they are coming from, exchanging ideas, and collaborating--not something resembling the Disney movie where the birds on the beach are saying “Mine”, “Mine”, “Mine”.
Because of this conversation, I began to understand my clients a little bit more. Sometimes, people come see me for a variety of symptoms, including feeling isolated, depressed, lost, sad, or really anxious. Sometimes they see me for trauma or loss of purpose. Often times, these symptoms stem from one simple, yet very complex, thing: disconnection. Many people feel as if they have no one they can talk to. They think that no one really understands them or can see where they are coming from. This leads people to believe that they are the only ones going through life adversities or hardships and can lead to even more isolation. It makes them feel like a therapist is the only one who gets it and isolates them from reaching out to people in their own social support networks or circles. It increases isolation and magnifies loneliness.
Think about it. Think about the last conversation you had. Was the person really hearing you? Did you leave the conversation thinking, “Wow, that person really understands what I just said”. I hope you did, but I am going to guess you didn’t. In order to have connection, I believe you need to have three things:
To be heard.
It’s one thing to be listened to; it’s another to be heard. To have someone really hear what you are saying and respond with validation and reflection. Brene’ Brown talks about those people you don’t want to share some inner parts of you with: those who are one uppers, those who degrade you, those who give you advice and those you have console.
"Rarely does a response make something better. what makes something better is connection." - brene brown
To be understood.
Few things are worse than sitting next to someone who is sitting on their phone distracted, not looking at you, or distracted by other things while you are trying to talk with them. Understanding requires empathy. Empathy is the skill to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. It’s the ability to really view life from the other’s eyes and to then reflect back what that person is saying to show them that you get it. You aren’t doing this for yourself. You’re doing this for them--to show this person that they aren’t in it alone and that even though you may not agree, that you understand.
To be respected.
You can have 2 of the 3 pieces of connection and still come up short. For example, if you hear someone and understand them but don’t have respect for them or their beliefs, then you may counteract with your own beliefs or tell the person the way they feel is wrong. Obviously or not, this is not helpful when you’re communicating with someone or when you’re trying to build connection.
To respect someone is to value their beliefs, ideas, and perspective. It’s knowing that each person has a different childhood, different background, and different history than everyone else and that people view life through different lenses than yourself. Let me be clear: you don’t have to agree with someone to respect them.
Have you ever felt like you were the only one on planet Earth when you were sitting in an auditorium or a room full of people? This is the type of disconnection I'm talking about: the feeling of being alone or being disconnected, not being understood, and not feeling heard when there are physical human bodies around. The power of disconnection can lead many people down a rabbit hole of isolation, of depression, of loneliness, and hopelessness. By respecting someone's perspective, hearing what they are saying instead of responding, and understanding where someone is coming from even if you can't relate or are unsure what the experience is like will build connection, improve relationships, and improve a greater quality of life.
Robin Helget, LMSW, CPT
To read more articles by Robin, view her bio. Robin works with millennials and other adults on loss of purpose in life, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Robin believes there is more than one template to being happy and seeks to help her clients build their own template for happiness in their own lives. Robin also works with young children and their parents on issues at school, difficulty adjusting, trauma, and attachment/adoption. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Robin, click here.