We often read reports of how loneliness is the real pandemic we face today. Loneliness is a negative feeling where a person experiences a lack of intimacy and friendship and, as a result, resorts to negative self-talk, self-blame and rumination. Loneliness in my opinion is also the product of a greater socio-cultural malaise which is more recent in its production. More and more, we are driven by a punitive sense of hyper-individualism and hyper-autonomy. We go through life assuming that we are going to be sufficient for ourselves and we put extreme pressure on ourselves to meet all of our needs. Unfortunately, the psychological needs are such that they yearn to be met by someone else.
If you read the latest psychology literature, a lot of the discussion centers on topics like boundaries, prioritizing your needs, asserting yourself, and learning how to say no. There is so much wisdom in all of this. And yet, some of us find it difficult to harness the knowledge that is available for free today. Negotiating the salary, telling a friend that he paid for his cab last time and never really got the money back, saying no to accompanying a parent with shopping – we met instances where we have put energy into something we haven’t done. t want to do.
Most of us don’t have the skill to tactically work around these issues. Some of us are so afraid of negotiating and having difficult conversations that we simply give up on people. And, it has nothing to do with people per se. It is mainly our lack of competence for clear communication. Nowadays, many people identify as introverts or misanthropists – although these two categories of personalities are totally different, yet they share an aversion to socialization and people in general.
One way to unlearn everything we know about communication, intimacy, and expectations is to simply share our living space with some who don’t share a story. Today, most healing paradigms require you to retire to a safe space, to a meditation center, or to take a solo journey of self-discovery and self-understanding. While these are perfectly valuable tools for gaining self-knowledge and at the same time healing ourselves from toxic behavior patterns and toxic relationships, healing also lies in learning new ways of communicating with others. It happens when you share your living space with an individual on a daily basis for an extended period of time. It could be a friend, colleague, acquaintance or member of a spiritual community of which you are a part. Living in an ashram often helps us improve the skills of our employees as there is a shared responsibility for the well-being of all residents and no pressure to outdo one another.
Self-knowledge is not a simple exercise in analyzing our past and knowing our triggers. It is also about how we project our desires, why we feel connected with some while experiencing a sense of anxiety in the presence of others. Does safety mean familiarity or comfort? Why do some people make us uncomfortable and is this necessarily a red flag? People are always going to be anxious just because they are a separate sovereign entity that we cannot fully access. Knowing our attachment styles – (secure attachment, anxious attachment-insecurity, avoidance-insecurity attachment, disorganized attachment-insecurity … More in a future column) goes a long way in forging healthier relationships.
Likewise, focusing on the kind of psychological material we can sift through and sort through our conversation with other people gives us insight into our larger thought patterns. Do we tend to be needy in relationships? Are we revealing too much of ourselves too soon? Are we being too careful in revealing ourselves? Do we like to be challenged in a conversation or do we always like to be friends with someone who thinks like us? Do we like to act as victims? Do we take the role of an agonizing aunt in our group? And what is the core belief behind these thoughts and behaviors that we tend to repeat? What role do we take on in interacting with others? Such an investigation of our interaction with other people casts extraordinary psychological insight into who we are and how we want to be seen by others. Human company should be cherished not only because it tends to make us feel less isolated, but these relationships also tell us a lot about who we are. Risking a conversation, a relationship, a random conversation with another person is definitely worth it.
(The writer is a mental health and behavioral science columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and offers personality development sessions to young adults. She can be found as @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter. )
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Posted on: Sunday January 09, 2022, 7:00 a.m. IST