How to get and stay emotionally connected

12 March 2016

Purple flower with a ladybird

We all want to feel loved, understood, and accepted as we are. Feeling connected makes us feel fulfilled and happy.

It is no secret that social bonds are fundamental to our well-being whether physical or mental.

What an irony, that nowadays with the technology that connects us beyond the usual person to person experience, it seems harder than ever to stay emotionally connected.

It isn't only a problem of those who live by themselves. Many people can feel lonely and isolated even when surrounded by friends and loved ones. It's the world's greatest tragedy.

Navigating the landscapes of our relationships is not an easy task, but when we accept and recognize it as a skill rather than a personality trait, we can start to work on the skill, and that's great news.

Attachment styles

Attachment theory tries to explain how an early emotional bond of a human baby to their primary caregiver affects their later relationships. How they respond when they get hurt, when separated from their loved ones and how they perceive threats in their relationships as well as the ability to trust others and themselves.

Psychologists recognize three main attachment styles, secure attachment style (comfortable in relationships, able to ask for help without feelings of discomfort, feeling emotional safety), avoidant attachment style (greater sense of autonomy, someone who doesn't give much importance to emotions and who is not comfortable opening up and seeking support), and fearful attachment style (someone who is overly clingy, scared of rejection and constantly seeks reassurance).

We may fall anywhere on the attachment scale if your style is not anywhere in the secure zone, it's more likely that you fall into a spectrum of the two insecure attachments styles rather than into one single category.

Take a quiz:
 What is your attachment style?


The way of calling

One way to find out how you act and respond in your relationship is this exercise from the book Love Sense by Dr. Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist, and developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Find a quiet place where you won't be interrupted. Imagine that you're in an unfamiliar and dark place. You're alone and scared. What would you do if your only option to get out is to call for someone to help?

Who is the person you call for? Imagine this person in your mind.

Do you call or not? Perhaps you convince yourself that it is a sign of weakness to call for help, or that it will lead to hurt and disappointment. Perhaps you decide it's better not to rely on anybody, so you stay in the dark alone trying to comfort yourself. Or perhaps you call very reluctantly and go hide in the dark corner.

Let's say you called.

How do you do it and what does your voice sound like?

How would the scenario continue when the person comes? Does the person express concern and offer reassurance? Would the person come and stay with you until you feel safe? Or would the person come and sometimes turn away? Would they leave after a little while before you can feel comforted? How would that make you feel? Would the person say something dismissive making you feel unheard, inadequate, or criticized?

And what would you do next if they left prematurely or made you feel inadequate? Would you express your emotions or keep them inside feeling hurt and angry? Would you forgive them and call them back? Would you no longer trust them and feel resentful?

You can write it all down including how you feel about doing the experiment itself.

Becoming more secure

For us who have insecure attachment style it is much harder to get and stay emotionally connected especially if our partner is also insecurely attached.

If we're lucky, we find a partner with a more secure attachment style who can help us develop a sense of safety in the relationship.

But what if we aren't so lucky? Is it possible to shift our insecure attachment into the more secure zone?

Although, it may be very hard, I think it's possible.

For every action, there is a reaction. So everything you do will create a reaction from your partner which you'll react to and so on and so forth. So whatever you put in comes back at you.

Think of it as a dance.

A great dancer has an incredible ability to control his body and movements, and that's because he has innumerable amounts of practice under his belt. If he starts to dance with some other dancer, he will be forced to pay close attention to the moves of his partner, so he can adjust himself accordingly.

A great dancer knows the steps and can immerse himself in the flow of the movement. But he wouldn't be able to do so if he's preoccupied with fear or inadequacy and without trusting himself and his partner.

A great dancer can help his less skilful dancing partner with the feelings of trust perhaps even teaching him some steps. Naturally the dance won't be as fluid and smooth as if there were two great dancers dancing together.

But even in the beginners' dance if just one of the beginners learns the steps and sheds their self-consciousness and doubts the dance can improve.

According to Sue Johnson, if both partners learn together to navigate trough the emotional realm of their relationship there is a 70% chance of them succeeding.


When you're the one being called

I like the experiment mentioned above. Not only that it gives me insight into the way I react when feeling afraid and rejected, but if I reverse the experiment, I can see how I respond to the call myself.

The way we respond to the attempts to reach out from our loved ones is imperative to our emotional connection.

The call can be anything from a comment, a joke, a question, a gesture or a posture and a face expression.

And it doesn't have to come just from our loved ones. If we pay attention, we notice these calls from people all around, on the bus, in the grocery store or in the traffic jam.

We can either respond to the call and turn toward the person who called with a great focus leaving our selfish desires aside, stand in our uncomfortable feelings without acting on them and offer a genuine comfort, or we can turn against acting on our own feelings of discomfort by trying to change and minimize the feelings of the other person, or the worst of all turn away and ignore the call.

Studies show that ignoring such attempts to reach out is more detrimental to our relationships than turning against, any attention is better than none.


Recognizing the presence of yourself and the other

Our power lies in the awareness of our feelings, thoughts, and habitual patterns which have developed through our lifetime.

Our feelings and thoughts are not the ultimate truth which we have to follow. They are just experiences, and most of these experiences are habitual. They just have to be acknowledged and let go off.

By being aware of our thoughts, emotions and habits, we can make a conscious decision whether to act on them or not.

This sounds simple, but it's very hard to do.

Being aware of our full experience requires a lot of concentration and focus.

Our brain can process only so much information, but we can enhance the brain and have better control over ourselves which is the only unlimited source of control we can have.

Choosing to respond rather than react is a skill which we can improve by developing our attention, acceptance, and self-compassion.

It is important to begin with ourself in this training, because whatever we do not love in our own self, we will not accept in another.

Once we can recognize ourselves in this way, it is much easier to recognize the presence of the other, notice and respond to the call, and reassure them about our presence.

When you offer someone your full attention without falling into the traps of your own unmet feelings of acceptance, they will open up and connect immediately.


Shedding the false layers of yourself

If you want to have an emotional connection with someone and even with yourself, you need to reveal yourself as you are.

It means expressing how you feel, what it is that you want and ask for help when needed rather than doing something only because others like it, trying to look better or relying on yourself because you can't trust anyone.

Often it feels like risking it all.

Being vulnerable in the face of fear and shame can be excruciatingly hard, and that's why it's important to do so with someone who we feel safe with and who accepts us as we are without wanting us to be different.

An emotional connection cannot exist without authenticity.

Most of us fear that others won't like us when we show them our flaws and imperfections, but the reality is that quite the opposite happens when we expose ourselves.

A study from James Gross, a professor of psychology at Stanford University best known for his research on emotions, reveals that when we suppress our feelings not only we cause harm to ourselves, but the reaction of others is physiological too. It increases their blood pressure which could explain why we like people who are real and honest, and why we feel uncomfortable around those who we perceive as fake.

Best practice is to risk it and don't hide our true self behind suppressed emotions and little white lies, connect within, so we can find a connection with others.


The art of listening

Listening can be an act of love and a way to emotionally connect, but it has its rules.

A problem with listening is the busyness of our own minds when we are unable to pay close attention to the other person.

We assume, calculate, think of our answers, perhaps even interrupt the speaker because we're unable to acknowledge our feelings of excitement, boredom or frustration.

Paying close attention to one thing is already hard, but in the act of listening we have to be aware of our feelings and thoughts, and of the other person's tone of voice, expressions, posture and the words that they say.

It's important that we stay focused, calm, understanding, and listen with a genuine interest even if we disagree, even if we have an idea and even when our emotions arise.

Always question yourself and others. Why is she saying what is she saying? What are her motives? What is she feeling and thinking and why?

When we shift our attention to the other person without judgements and assumptions, we leave less space for the thought to involve our Selfs. That way we can be more present to what they're saying.

In a conversation we must let go of our selfish desires and try to make the speaker the most important person for the time that they talk, ask them questions to clarify when we don't understand and stay present and focused as much as we can.


Cherishing independence in interdependence

Keeping your own independence within a relationship is central to your authenticity.

But it is also a great way to get more emotionally connected. Letting go of a constant need for reassurance from your partner and trust them can bring you closer together. Though it may be hard to do if you can't find this reassurance within yourself first.

It works just like an elastic band when you stretch it far either it will break or shrink back even closer.

When it breaks, you know it wasn't a good match, but when the activities you do as an individual outside of the relationship brings you closer, not only you will feel more secure, but it will also enrich both of you.


Offering and asking for forgiveness

We all make mistakes. It's our common human nature.

The way we stand behind our mistakes can make a huge difference to the relationship we have with ourselves and others.

Recognizing your shortcomings and taking responsibility for them instead of explaining, justifying and blaming is a real must for emotional connection, but it doesn't happen easily and without self-compassion.

Forgiveness is a part of compassion and it has many factors to it.

Watch:  Jack Kornfield: The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process which is not always linear. It may take a long time to be able to forgive whether it is to ourselves or others, but just like self-compassion, it can be cultivated and developed.

Asking for forgiveness from a genuine place can be equally hard, we need to be able to tolerate our pride and fear of rejection. But if the person is willing to forgive, it can bring you closer to each other and add a new dimension to the relationship.


Take the risk

Although emotional connection starts in our early stages of babyhood, it's possible to shift it by changing the emotional connection we have with ourselves.

In order to succeed, we need to develop our attention and focus, work on acceptance of ourselves and others, and take risks over and over.

It is not an easy task that will happen overnight. It may take a long time, and it will need a constant practice just like the great dancer who has practiced for thousands of hours to master the dance.

how to stay emotionally connected

Do you think attachment styles affect only close relationships or all of our relationships? What do you do to ensure you stay emotionally connected in your relationships?

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