Life really is all about human connections; forming them, maintaining them, ending or losing them. Personal connections give meaning and purpose to our lives. For some, making and keeping connections comes far more naturally than it does for others. But why is this? It’s easier to understand in relation to extremes of personality, i.e. very shy or gregarious people. But why do some people appear to form friendships and relationships with ease and for others their relationships are plagued with insecurities and self doubt? A friend sent me a link to a fascinating Ted Talk; The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown.
Brené Brown is a researcher and therapist who set out to research human connections. Brené collates people’s experiences, tries to make sense of them and then shares them with a wider audience. She says that the ability to feel connected is a neurobiological need in all of us and it’s fundamentally why we are here. She began her research by asking people about love, belonging and connections. However, when she asked people about love they told her about their heartbreak, when she asked about belonging they told her excruciating stories about being excluded and when asked about connection, they told her about their experiences of disconnection.
She began to identify time and time again that something unravelled or prevented these connection. She identified that this saboteur was ‘shame’ and that the more difficulty people have in articulating their feelings of shame, the more likely they feel shame very deeply. To never experience shame would mean a person is likely to be defined as a sociopath. We have all felt at one time or another that we have not been ‘worthy’ or ‘good enough’. She said this was often underpinned by an excruciating level of vulnerability. To make a true connection with another person we have to be ‘seen’. We have to expose ourselves and be open and honest. She decided to spend the next year deconstructing shame and vulnerability.
Self-confidence, insecurity and their impact on relations
However it took her 6 years to get to grips with her research and make sense of people’s experiences. With volumes of stories and data, she felt that she now understood shame and vulnerability and that it came down to this; some people feel worthy of love and friendship and some don’t. The worthy feel like they belong. Then there are others who struggle to feel good enough and worthy enough of love and belonging. That was the major difference between the two groups. She says in essence, what keeps some out of connection is their fear that they aren’t worthy of connection.
So what did she find that ‘worthy’ people have in common? She says people with a deep sense of worth are a ‘wholehearted’ type of person. They have the courage to be imperfect, to believe that who they are, warts and all, is good enough. They have compassion for themselves; their inner voice is kind and not overtly critical. They are then able to extend that compassion to others as they have initially applied it to themselves. This reminded me of the analogy of a parent in an aeroplane cabin losing oxygen. To help their children they must first help themselves by ensuring they can breathe and function; they must prioritise placing the oxygen mask on themselves. We can’t be authentically kind to others if we don’t first show compassion to ourselves.
Making strong and lasting connections
To make strong and lasting connections we have to let go of what we think we should be and embrace what we are. Without this level of truthfulness, positive connection can not exist. The ‘worthy’ people aren’t afraid to embrace their vulnerability – they feel it is a necessary part of life. The part I found the most revealing is that the group who struggled with a sense of self worth spoke about vulnerability in terms of it being excruciating and painful. Those who felt worthy of connection saw vulnerability as a necessary part of connection. They were able to reach out to others and make themselves vulnerable – they could initiate conversation with a stranger not knowing for sure the other person’s response, they could ask someone on a date without being certain that the person would say yes.
They recognised the need to lay themselves open in order to receive something back that was worth the risk. They felt it was fundamental to human interaction to be vulnerable; to give their heart to another not knowing if it would be nurtured. Brené’s training had taught her to control and predict. Her research had unearthed the polar opposite. To make authentic connections we can’t control and predict; we must be free to live a life with openness and vulnerability. Brené found it hard to accept that the birthplace of happiness and creativity lay in embracing our own vulnerability.
Many of us numb our vulnerability. We live in a vulnerable world and feel we need to protect ourselves; laying our souls bare does not feel the way to do that. So as a society we try and numb fear, shame, grief, hurt etc. by self medicating. We are a nation of over eaters, over spenders, binge drinkers and drug takers. We protect ourselves by not revealing our true selves to others. We put up barriers and defences. However, we can’t choose what emotions to numb and inadvertently we also numb our capacity for joy and happiness. It’s a vicious cycle. We then lack purpose and feel vulnerable and the numbing cycle begins again.
She says to combat this we strive for the following;
- We make the uncertain certain. There’s no room for discussion; I’m right, you are wrong! I have to be right; I’m trying to survive here! It becomes vital. There’s no discussion and the more frightened we become the more important it is to be certain.
- We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an affect on people and have an impact on their lives, both positive and negative.
- We blame; she defines blaming as a way to discharge pain and discomfort.
Accepting our flaws
How do we combat this? What’s the path to feeling secure and comfortable in our own skin? How can we feel worthy of the connections that many of us crave but self sabotage? Brené says we must embrace our vulnerability and let our true selves be seen. We must show love and compassion; even though there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. To stop and feel grateful for the good times, instead of fearing they will end or something or someone will stop you feeling that way. Finally, the most important part is to believe we are enough. If we truly believe we are enough then we treat ourselves and others around us with kindness and compassion.
Why mediation is effective in solving conflict
As a Family mediator I work with divorcing and separating couples every day. They are suffering a huge trauma akin to bereavement. They are hurting and often feel rejected by their ex-partner. They may try to rationalise why their relationship broke down and why their partner stopped finding them ‘worthy’ of their love and compassion. They feel they have been wounded and must protect themselves. The last thing they feel capable of doing at this time is to show vulnerability as they fear it is a sign of weakness. They can not see how they can trust their ex with that level of honesty.
I am not a therapist. It is not my role to explore in detail these emotions. However, what I have found is that mediation sessions can often help people to find purpose again and to individually move forward in a positive way. A colleague once described a mediator’s role in similar terms to these; ‘we help to tease and untangle the entwined roots of previously shared lives, so they can each replant their roots and begin to grow and flourish again’.
Helping litigants stop the blame game
We help people to move away from blaming one another as blame doesn’t help. We don’t take sides and we are completely impartial. Sometimes I feel that the fact I am initially a stranger to my clients is one of my most valuable commodities. They can trust that I have no investment in the decisions they make. My objective is to facilitate positive discussion between them. I help them to communicate and move forward. My job can be the most frustrating and rewarding role in equal measures. Why? Because inevitably if separating couples agree to engage in mediation, they will usually have to face one another and be open and honest. This makes them feel vulnerable.
Mediation saves hurt feelings (and costs)
So people who I know would benefit from mediation walk away and spend thousands upon thousands of pounds in the adversarial court system. It prolongs and intensifies their trauma, can destroy any goodwill or hope of civility and is devastating to children who just want mum and dad to get along. However, when people do engage in mediation and commit to the process, (sadly that’s often after they’ve been through the court system and have experienced first hand how damaging it can be), the results are remarkably positive. Not only do they reach proposals that allow them each move forward, but their communication usually improves, respect for one another can increase and they receive a sense of closure that they might never otherwise find.
If you would like to learn more about mediation please call our accredited mediators for an informal chat on 01908 410508