“Man by nature is a social animal.”
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of love and belonging are one of our most basic needs as human beings. Why? According to a TEDx presented by Neuroscientist, Matthew Lieberman, as mammals, we are not born with the ability to care for ourselves. In fact, Dr. Lieberman offers an insightful perspective into the power of connection: The only reason any of us survive infancy is because of someone else’s desire to connect with us and care for us.
What does that mean? In simple terms: humans need humans.
Human beings are wired to find a sense of belonging.
Many of us search our whole lives trying to find a place where we belong. Many find that the feeling of belonging within family, friend groups, workplace, community groups, or places of worships. We find a sense of belonging when we feel seen, heard, and understood by those around us.
What is true human or social connection?
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
According to an article written by Donna Pisacano Brown, “Human connection is an energy exchange between people who are paying attention to one another. It has the power to deepen the moment, inspire change and build trust.” Human connection is more than connecting through having a conversation. Real human connection is how we understand and support other human beings. Similarly, it is how we are understood and supported by another human being. Connection comes from our ability to listen, learn, evolve, empathize, help, and love. True connection is not made when we are talking over others, gaslighting their experiences, or invalidating their feelings. It is certainly not made when we speak more than we listen.
The connection we know and utilize today is our kryptonite. Today’s connection is overflowing with arguments, ignorance, and lack of empathy all committed through a digital screen. Humans need humans. Humans need human connection. Yet, we have transformed the means of human connection into the birth of human disconnection.
Why disconnection? Because instead of listening to other people’s (or even our own) needs, we are fighting against it. Everyone is so focused on their opinions, values, and beliefs being the “right” ones, we have forgotten how to appreciate different perspectives. Perspectives that differ from our others are what helps the world to evolve. It is what incites positive progression. If we all thought the same things and believed the same things, nothing would ever change. Nevertheless, instead of appreciating everyone’s differences and learning why people believe in what they believe in, we tear each other down, promoting ourselves and our beliefs as superior. The lack of open communication that stimulates learning and compassion has created a world of disconnect.
Are we truly living in a time of disconnect?
Disconnection develops every time we refuse to listen. You do not have to agree with someone to listen to why they have certain values, thoughts, or beliefs. Engaging in a conversation does not suggest agreeance. Listening and asking non-judgmental questions is not a sign of agreement. In fact, it is simply called a conversation. Conversations do not have a winner. One side is not right while the other is wrong. That is called an argument, which we have normalized as how to have a conversation.
All of this has been amplified by technology. Technology is diminishing the power of human connection. The intent of social media sites was to expand our reach; to communicate with people around the world. The progress of this technology was aimed at unifying the world by magnifying our ability to join in conversations with people around the world and learn new perspectives.
“The true value of technology is the human outcome it produces.”
If you have been on social media lately, then you know the use does not match the intent. What started out as a beautiful opportunity to breakdown echo chambers has essentially resulted in a global fight. People around the world are utilizing social media as a way to silence other people’s voices and opinions. There seems to be an urge to be heard with no desire to listen. Honestly, we so badly want to feel heard that we forget other people have that same desire and basic need. And, if we will not let anyone else’s voice be heard, then how do we expect ours to be heard?
As a result of the disconnect, many are living in isolation and fear. Many are hiding behind nameless and faceless accounts. People feel more inclined to communicate solely behind a screen than to engage in the same conversations face to face. This has led to a new generation growing up with an understanding that connecting through social media is the same as “social connection.”
The power of social networking extends beyond social network sites.
“Connection is not an exchange of information. It’s an exchange of humanity. It’s an exchange of emotion.”
In a world fueled by information, it is no wonder that we seek connection through validation and information. We want to be told everything and we want to tell everyone everything. What we do not always remember to do is share emotion.
Deep connections are formed on the basis of vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable enough to share our innermost thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement is the essence of a pure connection. As much as we want to believe that connecting with someone virtually is just as powerful as connecting with someone in person, it is just not true. Virtual connections have allowed for an expansion of opportunities, and it helped us communicate with loved ones during a time where physical distancing was required. However, nothing will ever be able to replace the impact of a face-to-face conversation.
Social networking is not just “connecting” with people on LinkedIn or “friending” people on Facebook, or “following” people on Instagram and Twitter. Social networking is creating social connections with those around us, forming a bond that makes us feel safe and loved.
Human connection is the most powerful tool at our disposal, especially when it comes to our mental health.
The secret ingredient to life: social connection.
Money may not buy happiness, but human connection can.
One of the most common symptoms of someone experiencing a mental health condition or crisis is isolation. How many times do we have to hear someone say. “I have no one to talk to”? Did you know that in 1985, a study was conducted that found the average American claimed to have three close friends they felt comfortable confiding in? That same study was conducted in 2004, but the number dropped significantly. In fact, the average American claimed to have only one close friend they felt comfortable confiding in with 25% admitting they have no one to confide in.
How does that impact mental health? For starters, having someone to confide in helps offer a sense of belonging. When you know that no matter what happens there is at least one person who will be there with you through it, it creates a feeling of hope. Knowing that you never have to go through it alone can help make you feel like you matter. On the other hand, imagine experiencing many tough situations and desperately needing someone to tell you that it is going to be okay, except you do not have anyone there. Imagine feeling so down that you feel hopeless or worthless or simply numb, and there is no one there to comfort you. Then, imagine feeling like no one would care if you were not here.
Social connection has the power to save lives. When we feel accepted by others, it boosts our self-confidence. It reduces the question of “Am I Enough?” When we feel connected to others, it serves as a reminder that we are not alone, and we do not have to go through life alone. Life is a lot fuller and a lot more meaningful when we share it with others.
None of this means that you cannot be there for yourself. It simply means you do not have to be the only one there for yourself.
To wrap it up, I am going to simply share a powerful quote given to Emma Seppala by Brene Brown in an interview for an article called Connect To Thrive.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” We are profoundly social creatures. We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, eternal youth or a new car, but at the root of most of these desires is a need to belong, to be accepted, to connect with others, to be loved. We pride ourselves on our independence, on pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, having a successful career and above all not depending on anyone. But, as psychologists from Maslow to Baumeister have repeatedly stressed, the truth of the matter is that a sense of social connection is one of our fundamental human needs.”
The social brain and its superpowers: Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D. at TEDxStLouis