Webb Therapy Uncategorized Quality Social Connections (Relationships)

Quality Social Connections (Relationships)

Did you know that through a series of controversial (and incredibly sad) experiments, psychologist Harry Harlow, was able to demonstrate the importance of early attachments, affection, and emotional bonds on the course of healthy development. Harlow discovered that love and affections may be primary needs that are just as strong as or even stronger than those of hunger or thirst.

1 Think positive

This sounds easier said than done. I challenge you to intentionally consider alternatives to your habitual, default thinking pattern. We all want to be liked by others – because we want to belong to a group and to feel valued, needed and wanted. Worrying about social situations is very natural because we want to be perceived by others in a certain way. Other people’s perceptions are out of our control. So, we worry about it. We worry about things that are out of our control. We also know that we control our own behaviour, therefore, we feel responsible for behaving in ways that will mesh with others. We believe the likelihood of being liked will increase if we behave in certain ways.

Worrying can become problematic if we overthink past and future interactions, and perhaps we choose to avoid some or all interactions to protect ourselves. But then we don’t get the social connection we need.

I challenge you to think positive. Choose that instead. It will take energy because it might not be your default thinking pattern. Set your positive intention. Use mental energy. Trust that the opposite of your thinking can be true as well.

2 Forget comparison – unless you are a clone of someone else, you don’t have their genes, their life experience, their upbringing, their family history etc. It’s kind of illogical to compare yourself to someone else if you think about it, hey.

Don’t be concerned if others appear to have more or better friends than you. Quality and enjoyment matter more than quantity. Savour the moments of connection, wherever you can find them.

3 Anticipate change

Our life circumstances can leave us vulnerable to a sense of isolation. Relationships shift over time, and we may lose touch with friends who were once important. People form new relationships, move away, start families, become busier at work or start studying etc. Accepting change as normal can help you adjust to a change in your relationships. Just as we grow, evolve, and change, so will our relationships. Couples who were once in love will fall out of love. And friendships that were once enjoyed may become less enjoyable overtime.

4 Tolerate discomfort

Anxiety may cause you to avoid socialising. Understand that feeling awkward or embarrassed in social situations does not mean you are doing anything “wrong”. I remember a period I went through growing up. I noticed people around me starting to use for sophisticated language. I thought I had nothing of value to say, or nothing of interest. I would struggle to form sentences in my head. I was becoming so anxious that my social cognition was compromised. Learning to be comfortable with myself, relaxing into conversations, and listening more deeply to the other person helped me. I remember going on dates thinking I have absolutely nothing to say to this person. That cognition, that thought, wasn’t true. It was part of a larger story that I was creating in my mind.

Reach out to others and your skills will improve with time.

5 Listen well

Practice listening. Ask questions and really listen to the answers, rather than just waiting for your turn to talk, or worrying about how you will respond. If you’re curious about what someone is saying, your mind will naturally form a question or recall a similar experience that you can share.

Respond warmly to people’s experiences through your posture, facial expressions and words. Put the mobile phone away and be present.

6 Rehearse

Out of practice with small talk? Spend some time thinking about questions you can use when conversation stalls. You might ask if the other person has been overseas or travelled, what music do they like, or what movies they like to see at the cinema. A natural question to ask is what did you get up to today? What do you have planned for the weekend?

I once attended a training for work. The facilitator shared her experience of often finding herself in similar situations, and she decided to formulate a “go-to” script for when she became tense, and a conversation stalled. Rather than panic, she had a mental go-to script to bridge the gap until the conversation returned to a natural flow. Sometimes it’s nice to allow for a silence, scan your environment and discuss something happening around you.

7 Go offline

Social media helps many people, but it can also increase disconnection, depression, loneliness, anxiety, and headaches. Ensure you have a healthy offline life. Perhaps invite trusted online friends to an offline meeting to build your relationship.

8 Help and service

Helping someone gives a feel-good rush. Oxytocin and dopamine neurotransmitters have been shown to be involved in human bonding. These chemicals can make us feel pleasure. Create a bond with someone by offering help or asking for it. If we’re not someone who asks for help often, the people who know us well will likely feel closer to you because you need them for something, nourishing the bond you have. Have you noticed that strangers in the street are often very willing to help someone with directions? It makes people feel good to help others and be helped in return. Something as little as assistance with a bag or holding a lift can help people feel seen and cared for.

9 Get involved

I know this one may make some people go “Eeeeek” and cringe. However, evolutionary and developmental psychology … and all psychology, has suggested time and time again, that feeling part of a larger community and getting involved makes us feel alive and part-of. Joining in connects you to other people, unites you in a shared activity, and provides an easy way to get to know people better.

Have you ever watched a group of people in the street having a laugh, or watched people playing a sports game, or doing an activity together – while you’re sitting alone on the outside. You might mock them to yourself to make yourself feel superior or protected. We’d rather be part of. It’s just the truth.

10 Manage stress

Everybody has some social situations they dread. Practice simple stress management techniques, such as breathing deeply and slowly, to help keep your stress in check through awkward moments.

We need stress to perform optimally. Befriend your stress. When it becomes overwhelming, recognise that it’s happening, allow it to be there, investigate where it’s living in your body, and nurture that part of yourself. Talk to a trusted friend in times of excessive or toxic stress. Do whatever you need to come back home to yourself. Rest. Drink water. Eat nutritious food. Shower or bathe. Spend time outdoors in nature. Watch something on tv. Listen to music. Come home to your true self, recharge the batteries, and then jump back in. You’re allowed to switch off for a while.

11. Practice, practice, practice

Relationship skills can be learnt. Don’t be discouraged. Remember that social connections are good for you. If you feel like you need support to build better connections skills, a counsellor or therapist can help.

We learn from new experiences. They create, wire, and strengthen, neural pathways in the brain. You can be silent and listen during social interactions. Get curious about the other person. Ask questions. Share some of your story and ideas. And breath. Practice makes progress – not perfection.

Related Post

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Dr Rangan Chatterjee chats with Dr Gabor Maté about his radical findings based on decades of work with patients. We’re currently living in a culture that doesn’t meet our human needs. Maté and Chatterjee delve into how our emotional stress can translate into physical chronic illnesses, and how loneliness and a lack of meaningful connection are on the rise, as are the rates of autoimmune disease and addiction.

Maybe you should Talk to SomeoneMaybe you should Talk to Someone

Author: Lori Gottlieb

Maybe you should talk to someone is a genuine, funny, touching, and realistic memoir of one therapist, as she navigates a difficult time in her professional and personal life. I couldn’t put this book down. As a therapeutic counsellor myself, the book gave me a greater understanding of psychology and human behaviour. It is a vulnerable portrayal of a renowned psychotherapist, her therapist, and the clients lives that she discusses in the book – and how they influence her life. If you have any preconceived bias about the therapy profession, this book might give you a new perspective. I laughed whole-heartedly and I blinked back the tears on one occasion. I’m really pleased I read Maybe You Should Talk About Someone. If you’re a busy person, the audio version may be more practical for you.

Understanding ShameUnderstanding Shame

Shame is a complex and powerful (“contracting” and belittling) emotion that can have a significant impact on our mental health and how we navigate the world and interact with people. It often stems from feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, or embarrassment about certain aspects of ourselves or our actions. This may not mean much to you right now … but that is all bullshit. I have worked with many people experiencing extreme toxic shame, and they are intrinsically beautiful people. Understanding the root causes of toxic shame is an essential first step in creating a healthy relationship with it. It’s crucial to recognize that experiencing shame is a universal human experience, and it does not define your worth as a person. Oftentimes, our shame is a projection of what we believe other people think about us, or it is an internalised belief (script, attitude etc.) that we learned from painful and scary life experiences. I want to preface the following by acknowledging that shame can be healthy. Without shame, we may develop unhealthy levels of egotism, narcissism, arrogance, and superiority.

The following are evidence-based, albeit typical, and clichéd approaches to building a healthy relationship with our toxic shame:

Challenge Negative Thoughts

One effective way to overcome shame is to challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to feelings of shame. This can feel exhausting! To be constantly vigilantly of our thinking, hence, noticing and letting thoughts stream through the mind will be necessary here. In 12-step fellowships, they would suggest to “let the go” and “hand them over”. For example, saying to yourself “This is not for me right now and I’ll hand it over to the universe just for now”. We do not always have the energy to challenge our negative thoughts. You can ‘compartmentalise them’, or say, “not right now”, or even say “thank you for making me aware of this and I may reflect on this when I have more time”. Challenging negative thoughts involves identifying and questioning the critical inner voice that fuels self-criticism and self-doubt. By practicing self-compassion and cultivating a more positive self-image, you can begin to counteract the destructive effects of shame. If you want someone to talk to about these issues, please call me: 0488 555 731.

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion (and kindness) is a key component of overcoming shame. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend facing similar struggles. Underpinning our shame is a profound fear that we will be rejected i.e., lose a job, be ignored by friends, lack confidence to make meaningful connections and intimacy. Acknowledge your imperfections without harsh judgment and remind yourself that it’s okay to be imperfect. We don’t often see others’ imperfections, and when we do, we think theirs are tolerable or not that bad compared to ours. Developing self-compassion can help us build resilience in the face of shame and cultivate a healthier relationship with yourself. I say again, every client I have worked with has shown me their absolute beautifulness by talking about their imperfections and showing me their self.

Seek Support

It’s essential to reach out for support when dealing with shame. This can be terrifying – paralysing even – and many people have reached out in the past and the outcome has made us feel even worse. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or counsellor can provide valuable perspective and validation. Sharing your feelings of shame with others can help you feel less isolated and alone in your struggles. Additionally, professional help can offer guidance and strategies for coping with shame in a healthy way.

Cultivate Self-Acceptance

Practicing self-acceptance involves embracing all aspects of yourself, including those that may trigger feelings of shame. Recognize that nobody is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. By accepting your vulnerabilities and imperfections, you can reduce the power that shame holds over you. Embrace your humanity and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.

Engage in Positive Activities

Engaging in activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment can help counteract feelings of shame. Pursue hobbies, interests, or goals that boost your self-esteem and remind you of your strengths and capabilities. Surround yourself with supportive people who uplift you and encourage your personal growth.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness techniques can be beneficial in managing feelings of shame. By staying present in the moment without judgment, you can observe your thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga can help you develop greater self-awareness and emotional resilience.

Top 3 Authoritative Sources Used:

  1. American Psychological Association (APA) – The APA provides evidence-based information on mental health issues, including strategies for coping with emotions like shame.
  2. Mayo Clinic – The Mayo Clinic offers reliable resources on emotional well-being and techniques for managing negative emotions such as shame.
  3. Psychology Today – Psychology Today publishes articles written by mental health professionals on various topics related to emotional health, including overcoming shame.

These strategies, actions, and ways of thinking will take practice, practice, and more practice. It is not easy. Based on my own experience, I needed a group of people on my path who I could rely on and practice with many times over, and then I started practising on my own. I still connect with the people living my recovery. I take breaks from them when I need to, but I always reconnect because loneliness will breed more shame. Please call 0488 555 731 if you need my support.