For most of us, UnBalancer flourishes when we’re isolated. We are social animals, and separation from others weakens our ability not only to thrive, but sometimes even to survive.
Ostracism – being ignored and excluded – threatens our basic need for belonging. In other mammals, being ostracized removes the individual from the protection of the pack and usually results in death from predators or starvation. Human beings are hard-wired to fear ostracism, so much so that in experiments where researchers create games in which the participants’ avatars are rejected by the other players’ avatars, participants feel anxiety and depression even when they know that the other avatars are actually computer simulations.
Establishing and maintaining close relationships, on the other hand, makes us more resilient. A network of connections – friendships, family, support groups, spiritual groups, and group activities that validate our interests and identities – not only enrich our day-to-day lives, but they also keep us steady when things get rough. It’s as if each connection is a guy wire, bracing us when UnBalancer huffs and puffs and tries to blow our houses down.
However, connections are not just a numbers game. It’s important that our relationships are actually supportive. For many of us, that’s a no-brainer. But for others, a crucial component of building a more resilient environment is discerning who, in our circles of friends, family, and associates, is an ally of our true selves, and who may actually be an ally of the UnBalancer.
Those of us who grew up with strong social supports and positive mirroring of who we are tend to recreate these positive-reinforcing relationships throughout our teenage and adult years. We almost automatically choose friends and romantic partners who are reciprocal in their relationships with us, and we feel buoyed up by our affinity groups.
But those of us who grew up with dysfunction in our relationships with family or friends may subtly replicate this dysfunction in later relationships. It’s as if, instead of being surrounded by mirrors that accurately inform us of who we are as individuals and in relationship to others, our views of ourselves were shaped by circus mirrors. This distorted mirroring then, unconsciously, shapes our future connections.
For example, people who grow up with a narcissistic parent who offers only conditional love may choose narcissistic friends, employers, or romantic partners who treat them the same way, leaving them always feeling “never good enough” no matter how hard they try. Or they may become “people pleasers,” always doing for others but seldom letting others know what they, themselves, need. Those who grow up isolated from their peers due to prejudice, economic disadvantage, temperament, or other differences often come to see themselves as “outsiders.” Later in life, they often continue to find it hard to integrate themselves into groups.
As we grow aware that we may be repeating old, dysfunctional patterns in our newer relationships, we need to redefine them, if possible – or end them, if they can’t change. We may need to assert our needs more directly, set our boundaries more explicitly, and reconsider the relative benefits and costs of maintaining some of our friendships and family connections. We may also need to build new relationships with people who support our true selves and to learn to discern whether we’re repeating an old relationship pattern or experiencing something new and life-affirming.
What to do:
- Get rid of the crazy makers in your life. Notice whether some of the people you have surrounded yourself with are more of a drain than they are a support. See if you can shift the balance, and if you can’t, consider distancing yourself from these relationships.
- Water the seeds of connection. We all get busy, but a quick text, email, or phone call keeps the lines of connection open and increases the pull of nurturing, face-to-face reunions with friends and family.
- Reevaluate people who are on the sidelines, but who possess a generous, helpful nature. See if you can deepen these relationships. Arrange to spend more time together and explore the potential of these connections.
- Participate in activities you enjoy doing. Current friends not interested in the things you love, such as hiking, photography, travel? Head out on your own, and open yourself to meeting new people who share your interests. Meetup.com groups, spiritual communities such as churches and temples, and recreational groups all provide opportunities for expanding connection. Look into physical fitness classes or day trips sponsored by town recreation departments or community centers. Take a cooking class at the local Adult Education organization. Check out lectures and presentations at public libraries or community colleges in your own or surrounding towns. Join a camera club. Choose activities that you’ll enjoy on your own but also may attract like-minded, like-spirited potential friends.
- Create affinity groups. Can’t find a group that is interested in something you’d rather not do alone? Create one! Reach out to your friends and social media contacts and see who else shares your interest, or start a Meetup.com group of your own. Anything goes! One friend mentioned her interest in cribbage on her Facebook page and several people outside her inner circle responded with enthusiasm, whether or not they had played the game before. Another started a monthly “gaming night.” I began an artist group that’s still running strong. The next step is easy – schedule a time, a place, and the snack! You only need a few participants to form a core group.
COMING NEXT: How to Handle Change with Ease
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
COURAGE: “The most profound form of courage is the willingness to face deeply entrenched fears and self-limiting beliefs and to move beyond them: to see obstacles not as roadblocks but as opportunities for growth. This is how we transition from surviving to thriving, victim to victor.”
NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:
Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)
Please let me know if you find it in other locations!
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)