The essence of healing is connection - first, to yourself. Then, to others. Your human nature directs you to seek bonding. You are, biologically and neurologically, wired for this.
Unfortunately, when carrying unhealed trauma, you could seek harmful connections because you’re disconnected from yourself.
Trauma is that very separation from the body and emotions.- Gabor Maté.
Cultivating meaningful, healthy connections, on the other hand, helps you heal and thrive. For this to happen, being intentional in shifting your priorities in relationships is crucial, especially in your relationship with yourself.
This week, join me to intentionally evaluate and shift your priorities so you may increase your connection to yourself, decrease loneliness, and build meaningful relationships.
The Neurobiology of Connection
Neurons are part of your brain and nervous system, and they help with sending and receiving messages across your whole body. When you touch something hot and feel pain, neurons fire up from your fingers to the part of your brain that senses this pain within seconds.
We now know of something called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons get activated when interacting with people and light up when you’re having a conversation. These neurons mirror emotions and behaviours that the other person is expressing. They are involved both in your trauma experiences and in your experiences of empathy and connection. To a certain extent, this neural activity is why eye contact, facial expressions, and emoting are crucial in therapeutic communication and interactions such as psychotherapy. And partly why healthy communities and supportive relationships can be healing.
Trauma is not what happens to you; it's what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you. - Gabor Maté
Chronic Loneliness is a Trauma Symptom
One of the first internal things that can happen to you due to a traumatic, painful experience, especially early in your life, is a separation from yourself. When you experience something excruciating such as rejection or punishment, something overwhelming such as burdensome expectations, or something terrible such as neglect, in that case, you are more likely to experience an internal separation. The disconnect from your body, thoughts, emotions, and sensations helps manage the pain and survival. It also makes trauma a very lonely experience because, over time, you start to separate from others and the world around you. You show up in various spaces in your life in a fragmented disconnected way.
Because of this, your system sees threat in many things: a look, a tone, a behaviour. You become an expert at seeing these cues. So you prioritize safety and moving away from danger. You experience fear with people: fear of being disliked, fear of being rejected, and fear of not being enough. In other words, you’re navigating the world more fearfully.
And, as trauma creates more rigidity and less flexibility, this separation and these reactions grow into chronic loneliness over time. When you feel this way, you feel dissatisfied in your relationships. You can find yourself settling and not going for what you want. You constrict yourself. You hold back your reactions. You can find yourself stuck in this cycle: Afraid to be your true self around others, isolating yourself or not seeking meaningful connections, then feeling chronically lonely. In the bigger picture, you lack a sense of belonging.
The Intention in Practice
What You Can Do
When you reconnect with yourself, you develop an internal sense of belonging. And, you take that with you no matter where you go and who you’re with.
Here are a few options you can try.
Option One: Practice Receiving Loving-Kindness
The antidote to loneliness that stems from feeling unwanted and unloved is practicing radical acts of self-love and kindness. You can start with visualization or meditation.
- Find a comfortable, supportive position, seated or lying down. Pay close attention if you're on your back, as this may be triggering for some people. Opt for leaning against the wall with your feet on the ground or against pillows.
- Bring your attention and focus to the flow of your breath, in and out.
- Notice the airflow through your nostrils, into your lungs, filling up your belly and body.
- After a few rounds of breathing in and out, and when you feel ready in your body, bring to mind someone who you believe, genuinely, has your best interest at heart. Someone who truly wishes you wellness, joy, and happiness. (hint: It can be your pet, not necessarily a person or even your wiser older self).
- Truly gather all the well wishes they have for you. Imagine them beaming with this towards you.
- Allow yourself to accept all the goodness from them. Accept this FULLY with your body: smiling, relaxed face, straight but open posture, etc.
- Inhale the positive feelings as you continue with your visualization.
- When ready, bring your attention back to the space you’re in. Focus on the surface you’re sitting on/laying on.
- Slowly and gradually open your eyes. Take your time with this, and bring all of the positive feelings forward with you.
You can also direct loving-kindness to others in a similar fashion. To send/give loving-kindness, you can use the same exercise above and end it by keeping some warmth and goodness to yourself, then taking part of it and directing it to others. You can send it to a person who needs it, someone you cherish, a group of people, or community members.
When you activate loving visualizations, they become internal resources you can call upon as needed. And you can access them right away in the here and now. By doing so, you start to shift your priorities internally, and the change in your relationships can flow from there.
Option Two: Attend to Your Fear and Loneliness
As humans, we’re storytellers. We love to tell stories about who we are to one another. And we tell stories to ourselves about our experiences. Storytelling is an ancient ancestral healing practice. You can use this practice to write your fear a letter. Or, you can imagine your fear as a person and speak to it. You can do the same with loneliness. These self-expression methods help with externalizing the fear, so you’re not carrying it with you. They also aid with viewing your fear differently. Here’s an example:
You showed up in my throat today. Making my voice hoarse and my throat achey. I knew why you showed up - previous experiences that have left me voiceless. But I’m no longer voiceless. You want me to hide and not speak because you think that’s the safe thing to do. My life looks different now, and I am different. This type of safety no longer serves me. You can stay for when you’re truly needed. But you’re not needed today. Not for this situation or this moment.
In this practice, the writing doesn’t have to be long or extensive. Just meaningful and expressive. You can use your imagination to express yourself. See if you can notice differences before and after. You can check in with your body for this.
Attending to loneliness and fear helps you prioritize connecting to yourself.
Various other options to navigate this and connect to yourself will be covered in future posts. Examples are:
- befriending your loneliness and getting curious about it
- attending to your inner child carrying the ache of loneliness
- increasing relationship skills to have intentional relationships
As you move through your week, remember that when you prioritize connecting to yourself, you get to know your internal experience and yourself more. Over time, this helps you to build trust and confidence in yourself. As a result, you start craving more meaningful connections. You connect differently with others because you have an internal sense of belonging.
Clarifying what’s important to you helps you communicate better about what’s ok and not ok with you. You can feel joy and freedom in expansive ways as these shifts occur because there’s inner pride in who you are.
I’ve been hearing from you weekly as we’ve been practicing living intentionally together. Keep it coming! I feel deeply honoured that you continue to share your most personal experiences with me.