For a lot of my life, I’ve felt distant from people. Sure I said, “hi, how are you?” I shook hands, and I interacted like most people, yet I still struggled with connection. I felt alone, even though many people were around.
When I was growing up, I was told that it was a good thing I was smart because that meant I belonged to the family. When family members were talking about people they didn’t agree with, they’d say, “Those people are idiots.”
I learned I must have the right answer, I must be smart, and I must never show my struggles – emotionally or otherwise. Struggles are a sign of weakness which are not acceptable.
So I learned to have a persona. My persona is to let everyone know that I’m the smartest guy in the room. I’ve got it goin’ on. I’m good. I know. I’ve got this. This is what I did to be loved and accepted.
The hardest part about this is that I am smart. I could argue that it’s not a persona. It’s me. Yet there is a difference between being confidently smart and making sure I appear smart to everyone else. So there is a difference, but for many years, I couldn’t see it.
You might have your own version of this and can relate.
You might be wondering how this all relates to connection. Let me connect the dots.
- To feel connected, I need to feel like people get me, so I’ll feel heard and understood.
- When I have a projected persona, people aren’t getting me. They’re getting my persona.
- When I hide myself behind a persona, I can’t ever really feel connected to people.
For years, I would meet and interact with people. I would dialog with people about hobbies, interests, and common views. Yet I continued to feel disconnected, and I’d wonder, “Why?” Was true connection really a myth that people talk about? Were people wanting connection so badly that they conjured up connection even when everyone is ultimately really alone?
Or was it real but others just weren’t connecting with me? What did I need to do to get others to connect with me?
I’ve found that connection does exist. But it’s a little non-intuitive. For me to feel connected it only depends on me. And I can’t make others feel connected, they must do that for themselves.
To feel truly connected, you must share vulnerably and authentically.
That’s so not what we do in our culture today, but that is what each of us must do to feel truly connected.
For me, I was so used to hiding behind my perfect persona, the idea of sharing my faults was terrifying. I had years of not sharing, of keeping my fears and faults hidden. I was afraid that my sharing would be the end – the end of the relationship, the end of respect, and I’d have to move on to someplace else – not logical to be sure, but that was my fear.
One day some seminar friends encouraged me to be more vulnerable. I couldn’t quite understand their reasons why, but I trusted them, and I decided to share anyway – with fear and trembling. I shared a little bit here and there. And to my surprise, I found people saying, “oh yeah. I can relate to that.” So I shared a little bit more, and they related even more. The more I shared, the easier it got, and the more I found people appreciated it. I also felt connected.
I felt deeply connected. They know me, and they still accept me. There it is, the connection I so much wanted, and it came at time I didn’t expect.
I’ve found that when I am open, authentic and vulnerable, it invites others to do the same. Not everyone takes me up on my invitation, but many do. I am also picky about where I share and what I share. I often test the waters first. I’ve learned that not everyone appreciates it.
And by the way, I’m still learning, growing, and stretching myself in this area. I don’t have everything buttoned down. I still experience fear when sharing something new or sharing with new people.
As I go along in life, I am finding I can share vulnerably in various ways in more places than I ever thought, and when I do, I connect.
What about you? Do you struggle feeling connected? Where do you find it safe to be vulnerable?