“Your relationship to yourself will always be reflected in your relationship with others.” – Vironika Tugalvea
Have you ever considered how many real and authentic relationships you have in your life?
I’m not referring to the random people who follow you on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Nor am I alluding to the acquaintances that you meet at fancy soirées, social gatherings and networking events.
Rather, I’m talking about those you know will be there for you, no matter what. If you’re ever in a state of distress, you feel comfortable calling them, even late into the night. You can be vulnerable with them because they see and accept you for who you are, warts and all. These authentic relationships could include partners, friends, family, or co-workers. The type of relationship doesn’t matter as much as the quality of the dynamic you share with them.
If you’re anything like me, you can probably count the number of authentic relationships that you have on your fingers. Given the structure of our society, the steady erosion of moral and ethical values, and the hectic pace of life, this is hardly surprising.
It’s challenging to forge deep and lasting bonds when we’re caught up in our busy lifestyles. Instant messaging and social media are now used as substitutes for in-person interactions. These virtual ties delude us into believing that we’re well connected and popular. As a result, most relationships are brief, shallow and impermanent. We’ve become accustomed to maintaining relationships to get ahead in our lives, whether it’s in our careers or personal ambitions. We often think, “what’s in it for me?” when befriending others and base our relationships on what can be gained from them.
We fail to realize that genuine connections are vital to the nourishment of our souls. Relationships marked by tenderness, understanding and unconditional love are not a nicety, but a necessity when it comes to our emotional health. Research has shown that the high rate of stress, anxiety and depression prevalent in society can be attributed to isolated lifestyles.
The quest for deep and meaningful connection is often seen as idealistic or even naïve to some. They may scoff at the idea as a romantic notion propagated by movies and novels and that fueling these fantasies sets up false expectations, leading to disappointment and sadness.
I firmly believe that developing soulful, sincere, and heartfelt connections can become a reality for us all, provided that we’re willing to examine our behavioral patterns and commit to making the effort needed to find, develop, and sustain those quality connections that we seek.
Films with moving narratives, like the Oscar-winning masterpiece The Shape of Water, vividly demonstrate this possibility. Elisa, the leading lady, had to see through the cryptic façade of the sea creature to witness his beauty. It was her compassion and openness that gave her the courage to communicate and develop a loving relationship with him. Their surface differences didn’t hold them back from picking up on the one commonality that they shared.
The relationship between Elisa and the sea creature illustrates the richness and texture that authentic relationships can add to the tapestry of our life. Our journey becomes much more exciting when we’re willing to engage with others more deeply – when we’re willing to laugh, smile and break bread with those we feel a strong connection with.
It’s our birthright to have friendships that go beyond the surface-level pleasantries, where we can have heart-to-heart dialogue in which both parties are empathetic and honest with each other. We all need to feel understood and respected for who we are, and be ourselves without feeling judged.
Here are four guidelines for cultivating authentic and healthy relationships in your life:
1. Deal with your own stuff first: True intimacy is almost impossible to develop between two people if one or both the parties have lingering psychological issues that haven’t been addressed. Low self-esteem, guilt, anger and other negative emotions will contaminate a relationship. Before seeking authentic connections, you’ve got to be honest with yourself and acknowledge any wounds that need to be healed. A solid inner foundation will give you the strength to open up to someone in a healthy way.
2. Be willing to invest: Growing healthy relationships takes work and requires a willingness to invest. Like a delicate seedling, it needs to be regularly tended to, watered and given enough sunlight and nutrients so it can grow and flourish. We need to carve out enough time and space in our lives in order to be fully present with another person, and truly invest in a relationship. Intimacy develops when we’re available to engage in warm and genuine communication, all while respecting the other’s values and views, and spending quality time with them.
3. Begin with the intention to give and not get: Most people enter relationships hoping to get something out of it – emotional satisfaction, financial benefits, career advancement or knowledge are some of the most common relationship currencies. Although, there’s nothing wrong with wanting these things, it’s important to remain wary of having purely self-centered and selfish intentions. The dynamic of a relationship can dramatically shift by changing our attitudes to one of giving, instead of taking. We should be willing to ask ourselves, “how can I enhance this other person’s life? How can I help them?”
4. Only choose those who are capable of giving the same: Not everyone is capable of having deep and meaningful relationships. You have to be selective and invest only in those who display qualities conducive to building healthy connections. Selfish and immature individuals lack the compassion needed to take on the role of friend or partner. They don’t have the emotional bandwidth to be a whole and fully functioning adult in a partnership of any sort. Relationships are a two-way street, and both sides need to pitch in to keep it going. Knowing this can save you from the pain that comes from trying to get close to a person who is emotionally unavailable, unbalanced, or reckless.
Relationships are like muscles, the more that we engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become. In the end, you’ll realize that all the hard work that you put into it will be worth it because it exposes you to a dimension of love and caring that only a real friend or partner can share with you.
All my best on your journey,
Question: What do you believe is the secret to cultivating authentic and healthy relationships? How have you seen this play out in your own life?