Maybe you’re tough to be close to. That happens.
It especially happens when we’ve had experiences in our lives that have programmed us with beliefs about what it means to be close to other people.
Many of us, for whatever reason, grow up with programming about closeness to other people that discourages us from being close to them, or even attempting to be close to them.
Some of us have come to believe that allowing ourselves to be close to other people only opens ourselves up for the pain of mockery and eventual betrayal.
Some of us have developed the belief that truly “strong” people need to live a lonely, isolated existence, like “leaders” and “geniuses” are sometimes reputed to.
Still others have simply had so many painful, traumatic experiences in their lives that they feel the have to live lonely, isolated lives simply to function.
Whatever the reason, a large subset of people find themselves in adulthood having developed a variety of psychological and behavioral defenses against human closeness that they then have very mixed feelings about.
On the one hand, these defenses can keep us feeling “safe,” at least relatively. Keeping other people at arm’s length lets us in some ways feel like we’re more in charge of our lives, our environments, our schedule, and our energy. It helps us feel more in control in some ways.
On the other hand, however, most people also experience an innate, hard-wired drive to connect with others. The continued frustration of this drive can leave people feeling lonely and lost, and lead some people to assume that they’re somehow defective or damaged because they struggle to make and keep close connections.
To be very clear: it’s normal to both crave and kind of fear making connections with other people. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for either impulse.
Both the craving for close connection and anxiety about close connections are experienced by most people at various times in their lives. Neither makes someone “needy” or “defective.”
There isn’t, actually, any “right” or objectively “healthy” level of human connectedness.
The level of connection to other human beings that is right for you, may not be right for someone else. Your mileage regarding how much close connection you need or want in your life will absolutely vary when compared to others.
Coming to peace and finding balance with our need for and fear of connectedness starts, as with most important concepts in personal development, with radical self-acceptance and self-compassion.
We need to radically accept that we have exactly the craving for connectedness, and exactly the level of anxiety about connectedness, as we have. We need to steadfastly refuse to pathologize what we experience as natural impulses.
Then we need to ask ourselves, with compassion and a commitment to self-acceptance and self-support: “What do I need, and how do I respect and honor my needs when it comes to connection with others?”
It may be the case that you need and crave a greater degree of connectedness.
It may be the case that you need and crave a greater degree of autonomy or space.
When we’ve become clear about our needs— when we’ve objectively evaluated what we need and want, with compassion, self-acceptance, and a steadfast refusal to judge ourselves harshly— we need to ask ourselves, on a practical level: “What problems do I need to solve in order to get my needs met?”
Framing our obstacles to getting our needs met as problems to be solved— and problems that CAN be solved— opens us up to entirely new dimensions of possibility.
Anxiety about talking to new people (or even NOT-new people!) is a problem to be solved. No more, no less.
Anxiety about allowing others to get too close or too enmeshed with us is a problem to be solved. No more, no less.
We know how to go about solving the problem of anxiety.
We know how to go about solving the problems presented by complicated boundaries.
And— because it wouldn’t be a Dr. Glenn Doyle blog without sounding like a broken record in this respect— most problem-solving in these domains comes back to developing and practicing basic skills: self-acceptance, self-talk, reality testing, and time and resource management. Self-care.
Be real with yourself about your own relationship with the very idea of connection.
Be real with yourself about the obstacles that exist, both inside and outside yourself, to experiencing the level of connectedness you’d prefer.
Be honest and compassionate with yourself— at all times.
You deserve honesty and compassion at all times…especially from yourself.
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