There are 4 ways to build connections. Only 1 works.
When it comes to making friends and connections, I can be a tough nut to crack. As an introvert, I keep others at arm’s length. For a long time, I forced myself into a paradox where I’m both loyal to those I’m close with but extraordinarily hard to get close to.
I’d assume anyone who wanted to get to know me must just want something, that they were in it for themselves and I had to protect myself. Unless I already knew who you were, I wasn’t going to let you into my circle.
“It’s not my fault,” I’d say. “It’s just how I am. Everyone should just deal with it. They would if they really cared.” For years, I missed out on making a lot of connections and, honestly, I felt pretty lonely.
Eventually, I got tired of that. Not tired, so much, of my attitude, but tired of the results of it. I started to learn more and more about introversion. What it means. How it works. Why I am the way I am.
What did I learn? That my approach to building connections had nothing to do with my introversion. Instead, it had to do with a big psychological flaw in the way I thought about relationships and the people around me.
Once I fixed it (and no, it wasn’t easy or done in 3 simple steps), my life started to fill up with new, meaningful connections. I met new business partners, made new friends, met my wife, etc. etc.
Here’s what it was, and what you can do if you’ve been in the same place.
All Your Relationships Depend On This
Scientists have studied how people relate to each other for as long as there have been scientists and people to study. What we’ve learned is that how you think about yourself and the people around you is a story you spend your entire life creating.
You meet new people, you create a new story. You think about yourself, you create a new story. You interact with others… you get the picture. Who you are in your relationship is the sum of all these stories.
This starts from the moment you’re born and happens over and over until the stories begin to sum together and you develop what’s called your attachment style.
If you get the right support and feedback from your family, friends, relatives, and schoolmates—and mix that with a bit of luck—you’ll get to adulthood with a perfectly healthy view of yourself and others, ready to conquer the world and make a lot of friends doing it.
But how often do things go perfectly? For most of us, growing up means, at some point, being betrayed, failing, feeling left out, being unhappy, processing loneliness and a multitude of other unsavory experiences that crop up along the freeway to adulthood.
If each of those things aren’t dealt with just right when they come up, you can end up like I did—with a less than ideal personality for building deep connections. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just how things turn out.
But it doesn’t have stay that way.
Attachment Theory: Are You Wired To Make Healthy Connections?
Decades of research into interpersonal relationships have allowed psychologists to categorize your attachment style into one of two categories: secure or insecure1.
With a secure attachment style, you’re just as comfortable relying on others as you are having others rely on you. You don’t really worry about being lonely or if people accept you, and being connected to others is as important as maintaining your independence. If that’s you, congrats you win at life! You can stop reading now.
But if it isn’t, you’ll want to know about the three other sub-styles that fall under the insecure spectrum.
This could be you if you often feel like you give more to your relationship than you get back. You might be uncomfortable without very close relationships or worry others don’t value you as much as you value them. Being very emotionally expressive is also a characteristic of the anxious-preoccupied type.
This attachment style doesn’t serve deep connections because it puts you on a lower playing field than the people you connect with. Like the title, it makes you anxious, and that’s not attractive to secure people.
If you place extreme value on your independence and tend to think less of others than you do yourself, you might be the dismissive-avoidant type. These types also tend to carefully guard their emotions and distance themselves from rejection.
This described me perfectly. And the reason it hurts your chances at creating great relationships is because you put yourself too far ahead of others. It makes you seem aloof and uninterested in connecting.
Just like the dismissive-avoidant, you’re an independent person, but for another reason. Instead of being a little too into yourself, you struggle to trust others and fear that people you let close to you will hurt you.
This attachment style keeps you from connecting with strong, secure people because you seem detached and distrustful, even though it only comes from a place of fear.
Transformation: Do This Now
Whichever one of these buckets you fall into is unimportant. What matters is that you recognize your own tendencies and commit to changing that ingrained pattern when you see it come up.
Just as carefully as science has divided us into different categories, it’s also carefully observed that they are not pre-determined. That means you were not born with the attachment style you have today—you developed it over time.
That’s important because it means it can be changed2. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, but it is possible. How? With persistent work. Here’s what works for me:
Each time I catch my brain chattering either about myself or someone I know, I force myself to slow down and answer two questions:
- Am I thinking the way a secure person with strong relationships would? If not, then…
- How would that person think about this?
With my answers, there’s only one thing left to do: be that person.
This post originally appeared at Riskology.co
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Photo: Flickr/Chris Potter