February 6, 2013
Lori Deschene, Mindbloom guest expert contributor
Of all the pains I’ve felt in my life, the sharpest came from the belief that I was ultimately alone—and I had to be.
I felt it in many different ways over the years.
As an adolescent, I felt ashamed of the ways my peers bullied me and convinced that there was something wrong with me. It felt safest to hide myself in my room—then the world wouldn’t confirm that I deserved to be hurt.
As a teen, I felt ashamed of the way I coped with my pain, by numbing myself with an ever-growing list of addictive behaviors. I felt convinced that it was safest to hide the truth of my choices—then no one would know I was so weak.
In my early twenties, I felt ashamed of having self-destructed for years, hurting my friends and family instead of making them proud. I felt convinced that it was safest to hide in a tiny room in NYC, far from everyone I’d hurt—then there was no chance of me hurting people again.
At some point while wallowing in the depths of isolation and despair, I realized I’d separated myself from everyone else, assuming people wouldn’t accept me if they really knew me.
It wasn’t until I joined a local yoga studio that I started questioning this belief.
Stretched into an uncomfortable hip-opening pose, I worried that others were watching, judging, mentally mocking—all things I feared in my everyday life.
As I looked around at others struggling on their own mats, I considered that maybe, just like me, they were caught up in their own heads, working through feelings about their former pain and trying to figure out how to avoid hurting in the future.
Right then I realized something: Everyone has fears, insecurities, and doubts.
Everyone has made mistakes; everyone worries about making new ones. Everyone’s doing the best they can, sometimes wondering if that’s good enough. And everyone wants to enjoy life more and stress about it less.
Not everyone could relate to my specific experiences, but in some way, everyone has felt the same things.
When we convince ourselves that we’re different—that people won’t relate or understand, or that they wouldn’t want to—we inevitably feel separate.
It’s ironic that even surrounded by people we can feel completely isolated, and yet so often we do.
Particularly in a social media-driven world, it’s easy to accumulate connections without actually connecting at all.
Every time we hide our true thoughts and feelings behind a façade to fit or blend in, we reinforce to ourselves that who we really are isn’t really worth sharing. And it’s such a shame to do it.
In any given moment, someone out there feels exactly like we’re feeling right now. What’s a better choice—to hide and feel alone, or risk the vulnerability of opening up and remind ourselves (and other people) that we never are?
Dancing around this question eventually led me to start tinybuddha.com, a place where anyone of any age can share their experiences, feelings, and insights to help themselves and others.
Over the past three-and-a-half years, close to five hundred people have shared stories for the blog; I’ve written hundreds of posts exploring my own struggles, successes, and lessons; and millions of readers have visited, many sharing how they can relate in the comments.
I see myself in the many contributors and readers, I know they see themselves in me, and, in doing this we’ve made a difference in each other’s lives. This is true connection, and it only happens when we consciously choose it.
If you’re struggling to do that, you may find these ideas (and the posts from which they came) helpful:
Know that you are worthy.
I don’t care how esteemed or successful someone is; there are things they’re proud of and things they’re ashamed of, and inside they wish people would see more of the former and less of the latter.
Oftentimes when we separate ourselves from others, it’s because we’re afraid people will see something that will make them question our worth.
We don’t need to change ourselves or our pasts to deserve genuine connection. We don’t have to try to hide the things we’ve done that might not seem flattering. We just need to forgive and accept ourselves, and trust that other people will, as well.
Being authentic means being vulnerable—letting people see all your different facets, trusting that they won’t judge you, and knowing that if they do, that’s completely on them.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be real with people and know the ones who accept me, accept me fully, than pretend and then have to maintain the illusion that I am something I’m not.
Dig beneath the surface.
The key to feeling more connected is engaging meaningfully instead of keeping things on a superficial level. The conversation doesn’t necessarily need to be deep and spiritual in nature. It just needs to be honest, authentic, and reciprocal.
You can initiate this type of exchange with anyone at almost any time simply by asking about the other person, fully listening to what they have to say, and then finding common ground. Naturally some people will stay shut down, but it’s worth the risk of opening up to find the ones who won’t.
Resist the urge to hide behind a mask.
It’s tempting to present a watered down version of ourselves to keep things neat and easy. I did this for years. Because I wanted to be accepted, I did everything in my power to avoid disagreement, disapproval, or rejection—including hiding my true thoughts and feelings.
This is another barrier to genuine connection.
If we’re showing our true selves, stumbling and learning a little every day, and spending time with other people who are doing the same, we’ll inevitably disagree every now and then. And we may occasionally find ourselves in uncomfortable moments we would have preferred to avoid. This is actually a good thing because it’s a sign we’re being real.
It’s far more satisfying to be genuine and occasionally deal with conflict than it is to wear a mask just to keep the peace.
It may feel like friction creates separation, but it can actually bring us closer if we deal with it wisely. That’s the beauty of really connecting with people: It enables us to learn together instead of growing apart.
Author and researcher Brené Brown wrote, “There’s nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen.”
We owe it to ourselves to be daring, and we deserve the meaningful, fulfilling connections that we experience as a result.
Lori Deschene is founder of Tiny Buddha and author of Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions and the Tiny Wisdom eBook Series. After tweeting quotes through @tinybuddha for more than a year, she started tinybuddha.com as a community blog, featuring stories and insights from people around the globe. It has since grown into one of the most popular inspirational sites on the web, with more than 2 million views per month. Tiny Buddha also has a robust presence on Facebook and Google+, with close to 1 million combined social media followers. Lori’s work has appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and Shambhala Sun, and she has also contributed more than 100 articles on self-esteem and well-being to nationally distributed ‘tween publications.