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The truth of the familiar phrase “No man is an island” is being proven as research shows how valuable connection is to personal wellbeing and overall success in life.

Studies show as people increase in age, so does their sense of wellbeing. However, wellbeing greatly decreases with age for those who are socially isolated or lonely. Additionally, Psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad found “A lack of social relationships was the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Researchers also discovered “low levels of social interaction was equivalent to being an alcoholic, was more harmful than not exercising and was twice as harmful as obesity.”

With findings such as these, there’s no argument human beings were hardwired with the innate need for connection. As we seek to lead fulfilled and impactful lives we must learn to cultivate meaningful connections as a crucial part of our purpose.

Most people view the significance of relationships as a side note to achievements or success. Relationships are seen as icing on the cake of life, not the cake itself. Many of us embrace the American Dream— a pursuit of prosperity, success and social status through hard work and perseverance. It’s only as of late we are learning a key factor in realizing “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is found in cultivating healthy, intimate and life-giving relationships.

SHARING OUR GIFTS

An important way to connect the pursuit of overall success to developing healthy realtionships is by sharing our gifts. For the purpose of this piece, gifts aren’t limited to talents like art, music, dancing or writing. Let gifts take on a broader connotation: Define gifts as the good things we bring into our environment without really trying. Gifts can be a natural bent towards friendliness, intuition, wisdom, kindness, thoughtfulness, attention to detail and so much more.

No matter who we are, we have gifts within us meant to benefit our world. Those gifts are developed personally but find their purpose in community.

Our gifts are a form of self-expression. Expression is defined as “the process of making known one’s thoughts or feelings.” Our expression isn’t to solely serve our own cathartic needs, it’s meant to be received and understood by others. When our gifts take on the form of self-expression and that expression is understood by others, it becomes a point of connection. As we tell our stories with our gifts (whatever they may be), others find a piece of themselves and are encouraged to tell their own stories. Expressing our gifts within community is like opening a window to our heart and inviting people to take a look inside. Healthy relationships involve knowing and being known. Part of being known is opening ourselves up to others by sharing our gifts.

THINGS THAT HINDER CONNECTION

If connectedness and relationships are so innately important to us as human beings than why are meaningful relationships and the authentic expression of ourselves so difficult?

There are four common hindrances to developing meaningful connections that are worth exploring: Past experiences of rejection, unworthiness, fear of judgement and expectations.

Let’s unpack these four in order to better understand their negative effects.

Past experiences of rejection
Our past experiences become a lens by which we view the world. We need to be aware of the way our former experiences shape us in order to lead the life we want to lead. How have our former experiences of rejection altered the way we view ourselves and others? Even an isolated incident from childhood can cause a meaningful impact. The feeling of rejection is a strong emotion. When we bare our souls in vulnerability only to be rejected by another we’re left with pain, shame and embarrassment. We have all experienced rejection and we must ask ourselves whether fearing rejection has caused us to hide our true selves and hold back from meaningful connection.

Unworthiness
Unworthiness can hinder our lives in many ways. How we answer the questions “Am I enough?” and “Do I have what it takes?” will influence the trajectory of our relationships. Renowned author, speaker and researcher Brené Brown found a sense of worthiness was the defining factor among people who lead wholeheartedly successful lives versus those who don’t. Similarly, unworthiness hinders wholeheartedness and causes us to shrink back and not be seen. If we don’t accept ourselves we won’t have the confidence to offer ourselves up in relationship with others.

Fear of judgement
It’s tempting to hide our true selves if we feel we will be judged or misunderstood. Most often, we are our toughest critics. We are intimately acquainted with our own darkness and shortcomings. When we offer an authentic glimpse of ourselves and feel scrutinized or condemned, it affects us. We might view that instance as an affirmation of our insecurities—the voice screaming “you don’t measure up!” or “if people really knew you, they wouldn’t like or love you!” The very heart of our innate need for connection is the desire to know and be known. If we feel we will be judged if we are truly known, our desire to connect will be hindered.

Expectations
Expectation is defined as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” Expectations of how things should be often hinder our enjoyment of how things are. There is a difference between bettering ourselves and working towards change, and having unrealistic expectations. Expectations in relationships are really tricky because relationships involve more than one person and expectations aren’t always verbalize. Consequently, one person in a relationship may have an unmet need or expectation, solely because it wasn’t expressed to the other person. Expectations need to be realistic and communicated so they don’t negatively affect connection.

THINGS THAT CULTIVATE CONNECTION

Now that we’ve explored four hindrances of healthy relationships, let’s talk about four factors that cultivate connection and authentic self-expression: Trust, honesty, respectfulness and consideration.

Trust
Trust is the glue that holds any relationship together. Trust is built by expressing our needs in relationship and having those needs met in return. We can’t control whether or not the needs we express will be met by others. However, we can control whether or not we will pick up on—and meet—the needs of others being expressed to us. This is a wonderful first step in building trust in any relationship. Too often, we are so inwardly focused on our own needs, we neglect the needs of others. Relationships are a two-way street but it takes someone to initiate trust in order for trust to be built. Don’t look for that person, become that person, and watch the relationships in your life flourish.

Honesty
Honesty paired with a deep sense of worthiness is the anecdote for the fear of rejection and the fear of judgment. In our social-media saturated culture, the world needs more people to step up and be honest about the good and bad parts of their lives. When we are immersed with the highlight-reel newsfeeds of our network, we feel isolated in our shortcomings. The truth is, we all have our shortcomings and our Facebook timelines rarely express the whole picture. Initiating honesty in the face of the fear of rejection and judgment is a courageous act. Understanding that you’re worthy of intimate connection, regardless of the response of the other party is a crucial step in cultivating healthy relationships. Commit to being honest, authentic and transparent. Understand that—even in your shortcomings—you are worthy of all of life’s best. This practice will unlock thriving relationships and your expression of honesty will be a catalyst for others.

Respectfulness 
The number one desire of a human being is to feel significant and respectfulness appeals to that need. Met needs increase trust and trust is the lifeblood to healthy relationships. We may not necessarily agree with everything a person does, but it doesn’t negate the fact that every human being—to some degree—deserves respect, simply because of their humanity alone. You can’t demand respect, but you can practice it in any situation. This act of self-respect is even more fulfilling than being respected by others.

Consideration
Other-mindedness can change the world. When we step out of our own heads and aim to understand others, we become a force for positive change. Consideration is simply acknowledging another person and taking a peek inside their situation. It’s offering help, solutions and—when the situation warrants it—putting their needs above our own selfish desires. Consideration attests to trustworthiness and tells others we are safe people—this is foundational in building healthy relationships.

Remember, healthy relationships are essential to leading a fulfilled and impactful life. What will you do today to authentically share your gifts and cultivate meaningful connections at home, at work and in your community?  

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