Humans need to feel seen, heard, and cared about by other humans. It's a need, not a want or a luxury. It's completely possible to totally hate people or think at some points that most of them are too stupid to live and that you would be better off in total isolation, while also carrying a secret longing for community. Running away to the woods or mountains with no human interaction might be a fantasy for some introverts, especially those harmed by the harshness of the human race. Some extroverts on the other hand, may equally despise people, but unwittingly long for the energy-giving presence of others. The interesting thing to me is that no matter your temperament, be it introverted or extroverted, our longing to commune with others in an authentic and meaningful way, seems to be integral to our survival as a species.
Extensive research has been done on this theory that people need people...not just a Barbara Streisand song anymore. However, I'm just going to touch on a little nugget of attachment theory and talk about my own observations, and you can read the actual research on your own if you like. It's fascinating stuff! Basically, the pull towards community seems to go beyond just human nature of wanting to congregate with others for basic survival requirements. To feel satisfied and alive, people need to feel seen, heard, and loved by at least one other human being. We crave having a witness to our lives. As babies, our survival depends on the warm touch of our mother, the attunement to our basic needs (food, diaper changes, shelter, naps), cooing back at us to help us feel seen and heard, and smiling at us so we may experience acceptance and love. As we grow older, we continue seeking out this reflection of ourselves in community with our friends, family, and eventually boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses.
Unfortunately, our society seems to be moving further and further in the direction of disconnection. Ok, here comes my short old person rant (cue granny voice)...Between social media, texting, and constantly being on your phones or computers rather than making eye contact and conversing with people in your world, you widen the chasm between you and I. Oddly enough, the more available and connected we are through the interwebs and our cell phones, the more isolated most of us feel. Selfies and facebook updates appear to be outcries to be seen, understood, and "liked." As I look down at my phone instead of talking with the person in line in front of me at Starbucks, I'm missing out on a real life human interaction and continue to assume my place as an isolated individual...not as a crucial piece of the puzzle of humanity.
Also, I'd like to point out that there is a fundamental difference between being alone and being lonely. A person can sit in silent solitude for many hours or days at a time and still feel connected to other human beings through meditation and believing that they are not essentially separate from the whole of humanity. At the same time, another person could be in a marriage in which he interacts superficially with his wife, children, and co-workers day-in and day-out and feel totally and utterly alone (for instance Don Draper of Mad Men). This palpable feeling of loneliness can be unbearable, and so many turn to alcohol, drugs, shopping, or Netflix binges to escape the discomfort.
It seems counter-intuitive, but actually leaning into the lonely feeling with openness, curiosity, and self-compassion, opens us up to a whole new level of depth and connection with ourselves and the world around us. This step takes incredible courage and a willingness to let go of the isolating need to feel special or different from the herd. For, when we allow ourselves to sink into the idea that perhaps we're not really more special than that guy over there at Starbucks, we're able to connect with him with the common understanding of what it means to be people...people who need coffee....or um I mean, need people.
When we take the time to set aside our own agendas and truly listen to and look at the person in front of us, we give them the beautiful and necessary gift of presence and attunement. And hopefully, you'll get the same in return. Now, that is what I call a conversation. Ok, I'm not actually suggesting you talk to every person you meet...I mean, read the room a little! But I am suggesting that it might be possible to experience relief from depression, suffering, and loneliness by looking outside yourself and connecting fully with another person.
Written by Stephanie Trueblood, LPC-Intern
About Our Blog
Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.