The Connection Crafts are all about building more, deeper emotional connections:
- with friends
- with potential romantic partners
- with existing romantic partners
- with parents
- with kids
- with colleagues
- with neighbors
- with anyone in our daily lives
But what is an emotional connection in the first place?
We know them when we see them, but the truth is, many of us don’t experience true emotional connections all that often. We lack that all-important sense of support and belonging.
And so, we are left to wonder things like:
Isn’t it unhealthy to depend on other people for approval and support?
I have more “friends” than I can handle, but I still feel like no one really has my back. What’s going on?
This is page is intended to be an Emotional Connection crash page. It is a succinct breakdown of important definitions and myths surrounding our social-emotional needs.
Before you get started learning exactly how to gain a sense of support and belonging (which this blog can help you with), this page will help make sure you begin your journey with an understanding of the key ingredients.
What is an Emotional Connection? | Let’s Define Emotional Connection
Some Examples of Emotional Connection in Action
- Two lovers holding hands while gazing out together at a beautiful sunset
- A mother and a baby feeling scared together after the baby falls over into a coffee table
- A husband and a wife discussing and forming a shared commitment to financial goals
- Two friends laughing together over an old teacher’s funny walk
Did you notice that some of the examples involve negative feelings?
That’s right: Some emotional connections center around uncomfortable emotions. But that’s part of the beauty because negative experiences and feelings are neutralized by a sense of support and belonging when we share them with another receptive human.
The Importance of Empathy in Emotional Connection
Now, some of the examples above involve what I like to call spontaneous emotional connection.
For example, two friends sharing a laugh happens without much effort from either party – something like this is typically spontaneous because both friends end up feeling the same thing at the same time automatically, maybe after a joke or a funny observation.
Many of us strongly prefer this type of emotional connection; they’re simpler to come by, and they feel natural.
But while spontaneous emotional connections are wonderful, we don’t have a great deal of control over how often they happen. We can try to set up the right circumstances (say a coffee date with a friend), but there are still no guarantees.
This is where the importance of empathy comes into play.
Empathy involves putting on someone else’s feelings, even if those feelings don’t come to you automatically.
By tapping into your built-in ability to empathize, you can create an emotional connection without having to wait around for it to happen spontaneously.
Let’s take another look at our examples.
Say a Husband and a Wife are discussing a joint financial plan.
At the outset, the Wife may feel deep anxiety at her Husband’s proposal to buy a new car, and the Husband may feel frustration that he is meeting resistance from his Wife. No spontaneous emotional connection happening here!
In order for an emotional connection to happen in this scenario, either the Husband or the Wife has to call up some empathy.
The Wife has to leave her own feelings behind and feel her Husband’s frustration, if only for a few moments. The Husband has to be willing to feel his Wife’s anxiety, even if he doesn’t agree that it has a logical basis.
This is where many people hit the breaks (especially those of us who come from families where our own beliefs and views were not respected).
Wait a minute! What if I don’t actually feel that?! It sounds like being empathetic might mean betraying myself!
But that is actually a misconception.
Emotional Connection Myth #1: Putting on Someone Else’s Feelings is an Act of Self Betrayal
Do you disagree with me?
Remember “the dress” that was buzzing around the internet in early 2015?
When people first saw a photo of the famous dress, they saw it as either black and blue (57%) or white and gold (30%).
For a few days, the internet was up in arms. People were bashing each other all over social media because of differences in color perception.
But some people, about 10%, were able to switch back and forth between seeing both colors. Maybe they started out seeing the dress as blue and black, but could also see it as white and gold with the right lighting, or the right angle on the screen.
Did “seeing” the dress in a new way betray the original perception? Did it change the objective truth (that the dress was in fact blue and black)?
Maybe it is physically impossible for most people to willfully change their color perception (which is not the cases with feelings, by the way). Maybe the color-shifters just had a special ability.
But that doesn’t change the bigger point: Temporarily adjusting your perspective doesn’t have to change your convictions, and it has nothing at all to do with objective reality. It’s just an exercise in empathy – something we can call get better at.
Validating Feelings is a Must for Emotional Connection
Feeling empathy is a necessary ingredient for emotional connection. But it is not, by itself, sufficient; in order for an emotional connection to be created, the empathy needs to be communicated.
And that is where validating feelings comes into play.
The easiest way to do this is to paraphrase what you think the other person is feeling. The phrase “It sounds like you feel….” is an excellent place to start.
I first learned about this phrase in my training to become a suicide-prevention hotline volunteer.
There are a lot of reasons that most people are not particularly great at validating feelings of others, even when it comes to the people they care about the most.
Oftentimes it boils down to simply never being taught how to do it properly.
But frequently, it also comes down to a deep inner resistance; many people mistakenly believe that validating another person’s feelings means agreeing with them even if they do not truly agree.
Emotional Connection Myth #2: Validating Feelings Is The Same Thing As Expressing Agreement
Validating feelings is NOT the same thing as expressing agreement. This cannot be expressed enough.
Let us return to our example of a Husband and a Wife battling it out over a family financial plan.
We left off with our Wife feeling anxious about her Husband’s proposal to buy a new car. The Husband was feeling frustrated with her resistance to his plan, which he feels is safe and appropriate.
Fortunately, an emotional connection only has to go in one direction at a time. Let’s say the Wife in this scenario goes first.
She puts aside her anxiety just for a few moments so that she can feel her husbands frustration. When she allows herself to feel his perspective, she can imagine that he feels like she doesn’t trust him and is generally annoyed with her anxiety, which he does not understand or share. They are in gridlock.
She momentarily imagines other situations in her own life where the shoe was on the other foot. Maybe she once wanted to move ahead with a project at work and someone on her team felt less sure about it.
So, the Wife stops pushing her own agenda for one moment and says “It sounds like you feel really frustrated with me.”
Suddenly, the Husband pauses. Maybe he is even surprised, but he unmistakably softens.
He says “Well, yeah. You don’t trust me, obviously.”
This is the beginning of an emotional connection; both the Husband and the Wife openly share in a feeling of frustration, of not being trusted.
Hopefully the conversation can continue on now productively, ultimately culminating in a shared emotional connection around hope and a solid financial commitment for the future.
But in the meantime, it’s important to observe that our hypothetical Wife did not have to agree with her Husband to get this ball rolling.
She didn’t say “You’re right, I’m so sorry, I should trust you. Go ahead. I don’t have anxiety anymore.”
She didn’t betray her own feelings, and as the conversation progresses she’ll have a chance to express them (to a more receptive Husband, at that).
But to get this started, she simply reflected back what she was able to tap into empathically; she validated her Husband’s feelings.
The Number One Thing Holding You Back From Emotional Connections
This all sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?
Step 1: Empathize
Step 2: Validate Feelings
So why do we all have such a hard time putting this into practice in our lives?
On the surface, it looks like there are many reasons. Here are just a few:
- It’s cheesy/cheesy
- We like feeling superior
- We only like positive emotions
- We only like heavy emotions
- We want to be helpful, not wallow
- We prefer to be fun and entertaining
- We are too busy
- We don’t want to “catch” negative emotions
But if you think about it for a moment, what is the number one thing all of these examples (and many others) have in common?
They all involve a discomfort with losing control, with being vulnerable.
(The definition above is courtesy of vulnerability researcher Brenè Brown)
We avoid validating the feelings of people close to us because we are afraid.
- We are afraid that others they will take our empathy and use it to control us.
- We are afraid that if we stop trying to control the flow of conversation with light-hearted jokes that we’ll get pulled down into topics we feel emotionally unprepared to handle.
- We are afraid that if we empathize with someone else’s struggle that we’ll be acknowledging our own vulnerability instead of hiding behind a protective cloak of superiority.
Emotional Connection Myth #3: Freely Feeling and Expressing Empathy is Not Worth the Risk
I originally wrote this myth as “Freely Feeling and Expressing Empathy is Dangerous.”
But then I corrected myself because it that is not a myth; it is dangerous.
- Others might try to take advantage of our good will.
- We can be confronted with scary feelings we’ve been avoiding.
- We will be forced to face the truth about our own susceptibility to tragedy, loss, and mistakes.
But when we get comfortable with emotional connections – when we learn when and how to make them happen – it is most certainly worth the risk:
Emotional Connections heal us. They make us feel safe. They make us feel like we have purpose. They make us feel like we can handle anything.
The Purpose of This Blog
I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of what I mean when I talk about emotional connections, empathy, validating feelings, and vulnerability.
The ins and outs of working with these concepts to improve our lives is a complex and rich topic. It is my endeavor to address all of these things and more on The Connection Crafts blog.
I’ve you’d like to learn about how your own unique personality will influence your Connection style and other tips designed to help you become an emotional connection expert, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter.
It will be my pleasure to send you practical techniques and wisdom on bi-weekly basis so that you can hone your Connection Crafts and get that deep sense of love and belonging you’ve been craving once and for all!