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My Vision of Connection

February 28, 2006

In the last year or two I have come to know myself in a much greater fashion. I know my talents and skills and I know what brings me flow – the subjective feeling of being most alive and engaged. It is the best feeling I experience in life and, in my opinion, the goal of personal growth is tied up with helping people achieve this state more often. However, as I have become more able to achieve this state, I have run into the next challenge – maintaining it.

There seems to be a very specific pattern in how my healthy flow state ends up challenged. After a constructive day or a great activity which has me feeling wonderful and authentic, I start to notice a subtle discomfort creep in. Gradually the discomfort grows into a very noticeable craving, the craving for drama or intensity. It is understandable that I crave this experience because it is so familiar. I grew up in a household that was filled with tension almost constantly. Intensity was a core element of the very air that I breathed throughout all of my formative years. Whenever, during those years, I reached a state of real calmness or contentedness, I unconsciously knew that it wouldn’t last. I knew that it was in fact the very cue for someone – usually my mother, but occasionally my father – to suddenly stir things up again. This behavior, purposely creating drama to draw attention or rock the boat, is known in psychology as “crazymaking”. Crazymaking is a favorite pastime of those who themselves were raised in or became familiar with unstable situations and actually have grown fearful of or even threatened by the calm quiet peace of a healthy situation.

The manifestation of this dysfunctional pattern shows up right on cue in my own life to this day. But today, I decided to do something different with that energy. Rather than follow my usual pattern of signing onto a computer chat program and talking with people, often very unstable people who create that drama I so crave, I decided to use one of the coaching processes that I use with clients of my company to constructively channel this energy. I asked myself what it was that I wanted to happen instead of feeling that craving for drama. The answer was that I wanted to be able to simply enjoy the peace and quiet. So I then asked myself about times that I have enjoyed it and I realized that the main instances in which I was able to simply enjoy those peaceful times came when I felt connected to other people. Whether it was right after being close with a woman or after being out with good friends who made me feel belonging, it seemed crucial to have reinforced in my mind that I was still connected to others meaningfully before I could be free to relax and cease chasing more intensity.

Following this thread, I asked myself when I felt most connected. Though I’m not sure it was the absolute most connected I’ve felt, the story that popped into my head immediately was the story of a girl named Emily. I had met Emily just weeks before and we had connected very quickly. She shared an incredible number of interests with me, spoke the same abstract and psychologically-oriented language as me, and seemed to value most of the same things I valued. I felt we bonded very easily and nicely and over the coming days this relationship remained in my unconscious as a very validating experience. Emily was someone I met at a time when I was working on a lot of important ideas and her presence validated much of what I was doing. I saw meeting her at the time I did as almost fateful, a sign, and I also got a lot of specific validation from her in terms of her interest in what I was doing. As a result of feeling this connection, I was more able to enjoy calm and peaceful times when she wasn’t around.

I asked myself what the most important thing was that led to us feeling connected and it came down to a feeling of shared vision. Emily seemed to share my vision of everything from education to personal growth, but most importantly, she seemed to share my vision of relationships and support between people. Community and the notion of the “give support, get support” relationship style, described eloquently by Daniel Quinn in his book Beyond Civilization, is core to the philosophy of many circles that I – and Emily, I believe – agree with. And so I was very hurt and surprised when recent events began to shatter my notion that Emily and I did share that vision after all. Regardless, it was clear that maintaining my healthy feeling, attitude and focus was tied in greatly with knowing that I had strong connections in my life to people who shared my vision in various areas from professional to social to romantic.

This notion of needing to feel connected to others in order to remain calm makes sense evolutionarily. Throughout human history, man could not survive in the environment to which he is adapted in isolation. To become disconnected was truly equivalent to death and so man developed a strong conscious and unconscious need to remain vigilant about staying connected. This feeling is evident in the frantic way that teens and adults alike monitor their social status. While I am not a social butterfly who requires great popularity and attention, I still maintain my own form of this strong need to reassure myself that I am connected with others who share my vision and will support me.

I then asked what, then, must I do to attain a greater ability to enjoy peace and quiet through feeling connected to those who share my vision? The answer was that first I needed to clarify what that vision was so that I could even be sure of who shared it and didn’t. The situation with Emily was a clear indication of how failing to clarify that vision or assuming too quickly that someone else shares it can lead to great disappointment. So in light of that, here is my vision.

I envision having a solid group of people that I can rely on, and who can rely on me, to offer real support in terms of time, energy and resources to each other. These would be people who value this support as much as I do, and who see it as the primary basis of meaningful relationships. This focus on “give support, get support” would be the main theme of the relationships, however the relationships would be diverse, and include people who meet different needs for each other. There will be professionally supportive relationships which connect me to people who support me and who I support in making a living. There will be friendly relationships with people who I support and who support me in recreation and sharing fun experiences and new ideas. And there will be romantic relationships, in which we support each other in exploring intimacy, sexuality and love.

The common theme in all of these relationships is that we are there for each other when anyone in our circle really needs us. It is important to diversify these relationships so that no one relationship becomes too burdened too often. It would be well known that relationships are not there to abuse, but also that when a person is truly in need and expresses it, we do our very best to be there for them, knowing that the favor will be returned in the future.

Now that I am clear on my vision of relationships, community, and the notion of “give support, get support”, what remains is attracting complementary people who want to engage in these types of relationships. This can be very challenging. We live in a culture where many people grew up in dysfunctional families and situations that, like mine, led to some discomfort with health and stability. Many people, including myself, can find it difficult to share healthy attachment in a balanced way and end up sometimes either asking too much of someone or pushing them away when they are in need. I am under no illusion that people who can truly and sustainably fulfill these types of relationship are easy to find.

However, a person only needs so many such relationships to fulfill their needs, and like in so many other areas, the key is simply to find enough. I don’t yet have enough, but I do have a handful of relationships that I think serve as wonderful models. I have my relationship with my business partner, Mark, which I think exemplifies what it means to be committed to giving and getting support. I have my relationships with my friends Rob and Damion, which have always been incredibly supportive, honest and open. I have my relationship with my friend Devin, where we have specifically agreed to be there for each other when difficult issues come up that we need to work through. And I have a number of other relationships with people where, to one extent or another, we have been there for each other consistently. I don’t mean to exclude anyone from this list and I hope that everyone who I share such a relationship with knows how much I value it even if I didn’t use it as an example here.

So, having shared that vision, and feeling that doing so is a great first step toward attracting those people who share it, I can finally rest tonight. I can avoid signing onto that chat program, know that I have some supportive relationships and that in time others will come. I can finally enjoy some calm peace and quiet.

Dr. Howard Ditkoff is a personal coach, group/organizational/business consultant and trainer through his company, Emergent Associates, LLC, which shares its unique knowledge, understanding and tools to support health in human systems of all types. Howard helps people discover and develop their deepest talents and potentials, bringing greater satisfaction to all areas of their lives, ranging from health to career to relationships, while helping groups, organizations and businesses of all kinds achieve greater success. For more information, or to contact Howard about setting up a Free Introductory Consultation, visit Emergent Associates, LLC's Website or email him.

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