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A Reliable Way to Consistently Feel Seen In a Lonely World
Engaging in meaningful conversations and embracing vulnerability helps us feel like we belong
Hello & welcome to another edition of Beyond Self Improvement!
Last Wednesday, I wrote about 7 Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Wellbeing.
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One of our fundamental human needs is to feel seen, heard, and understood. Not just once but regularly.
We can become anxious, irritable, overwhelmed, and angry when we hold our daily troubles inside rather than sharing them with others. We tend to become more fragile and less resilient, more moody and less emotionally stable, more impatient and less constant.
Weathering life’s daily storms becomes harder. Often we become resentful without knowing why. And we’ve all heard the definition of resentment—it’s like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
When we share our struggles with others, and they are met with compassion, we feel validated, at ease, grounded, whole and complete. Our psyche is soothed as if healing balm were poured onto an open wound. Our body signals to our mind that all is well and we can relax.
Years ago, I read in a Patagonia catalog, “Those who play together stay together.” This was good news because my marriage wasn’t going well then. But the one thing that was going well was that we enjoyed doing things together. We walked, biked, hiked, yoga-ed, drank coffee, backpacked, road-tripped, and traveled overseas. Perhaps these would be enough to sustain our relationship.
The most challenging part of my marriage was feeling lonely without knowing why. We lived in a cozy apartment surrounded by millions of people, yet I felt all alone. I wanted someone to talk to, but everyone I knew knew my wife. Talking to others felt like it would be an act of betrayal. Talking to a therapist felt like an admission of inadequacy. Neither felt like a good option, so I remained silent, carrying on my inner battles like a foot soldier under a heavy load.
In the coming years, my unexpressed sorrows turned into anger. Sometimes, the anger would turn into rage, and I would yell at my ex-wife over a minor incident. I became resentful. Thankfully, I had begun meditating daily, which helped relieve some of the pressure, but the underlying frustration remained.
In time, I saw the possibility of reconciling our differences. But ultimately, playing together wasn’t enough to keep us together. In hindsight, I see that my loneliness stemmed from not feeling seen. My ex-wife was probably lonely too but was either unaware like me or too stoic to be vulnerable. If we had talked to others, our marriage may have continued.
Today, I regularly talk to friends about my challenges and difficulties. Talking is a vital means for processing my emotions and helping to sustain my intimate relationship rather than an act of betrayal.
My friend Anthony and I discuss everything; no topic is off the table. We talk about work, ecology, sleep, sex, relationships, nutrition, masturbation, spirituality, aging, exercise, philosophy, and profound realizations we’ve had. He held space for my grief and disorientation through my divorce. We’ve witnessed each other’s deepest fears and darkest dimensions. One thing we never do is gossip. Everything we say is to gain clarity and process complicated feelings.
Talking to friends or family is like seeing a therapist without the expensive bill. What does a therapist do? You talk, and they listen. They witness and receive you as you are without judgment. Carl Rogers, one of America’s most respected psychologists, found that unconditional positive regard was the most critical factor in a patient’s success. The patients for whom he felt unconditional positive regard were most likely to get better.
Following are some of the many benefits of talking with others:
Emotional support. Sharing with others helps us get the emotional support we need to overcome difficulties. When we talk about our fears, worries, or challenges, and our pain is received with empathy, we feel understood and experience a greater overall sense of well-being.
Human connection. Humans are social beings, and we have an innate need for connection. Regular interactions and meaningful conversations with friends and family deepen our relationships, contribute to our social well-being, and enhance our overall satisfaction with life. We feel included and experience a sense of belonging.
Stress reduction. Talking to people also helps relieve stress. When we share our concerns and challenges and others listen wholeheartedly, our body and mind tend to relax and let go in areas where we regularly hold tension.
Perspective and guidance. Connecting with people allows others to share insights and perspectives that can help clarify our thinking. Sometimes, verbally expressing what’s happening for us is enough to help us see more clearly without any input from others.
Remember, talking to supportive, trustworthy, and empathetic people is essential. Whether it's a friend, family member, therapist, or support group, having someone to talk to can make a significant difference in your well-being.
Here are some helpful tips for having deep, intimate conversations with the people you love:
Gossip, interrupt, be overly emotional as you share, try to solve the other person’s problem (unless they ask you to), steal the mic (“That reminds me of…”), offer unsolicited advice, try to make the other person feel better, or think about what you’re going to say next while the other person is talking. The most crucial factor is listening with your whole being.
Stay relaxed as you listen, limit how much time you spend ranting, give the other person space to finish their thoughts, process their emotions, and have realizations, and remember that your way of being is more important than what you say.
If you’re having trouble concentrating, closing your eyes to stay focused on what the other person is saying can be helpful.
Talking with others regularly is a must, but not just superficial talk. We must be willing to have deep and sometimes difficult conversations, which requires vulnerability. Expressing ourselves helps us feel seen and experience a greater sense of well-being.
The essential factors in connecting deeply are our way of being and how much space we create for each other. And remember, the more you are willing to sit with your pain, the more comfortable you will be witnessing others’ pain.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for being here and giving me this space to share with you. I’ll be back in your inbox next Wednesday.
Keep talking and sharing,