Lost, alone and ashamed. That's how I felt for years when I was hiding my depression and bulimia, and eventually hiding myself. I felt safest in seclusion, where no one could judge or reject me.
I now know this actually fueled my depression; nothing amplifies shame and makes us feel stuck like self-imposed isolation. I also know that I am never alone—none of us are.
So many of us struggle with the same things. We've all been hurt; we're all scared of something; we're all looking to find happiness and hoping to avoid pain. Yet we put up walls so we don't have to feel vulnerable or risk being hurt again.
Ironically, it's this separation that hurts us the most. We have a deep emotional need to feel intimately connected to the people around us. We need to feel fully seen, as complex, flawed people who are beautiful and worthy of love nonetheless.
Though I required extensive treatment to uncover and address the complex issues that led to my depression and bulimia, I believe that opening up to others was crucial to my healing.
Connections are the key to both surviving and thriving. How can you start to deepen yours?
1. When you're caught up in your head, ask someone else how they're doing.
It's easy to fixate on our problems, which makes us feel worse and increases our sense of disconnection. Take an interest in others and you’ll not only ease your obsessive thoughts, you’ll also help them feel less alone with theirs.
2. Look for people who demonstrate traits you appreciate so you can voice your admiration.
So often we assume the worst of people, and our cynical mindset creates barriers to connection. Train yourself to see the best in people and you’ll likely bring it out in them.
3. Do something alone and smile at the people around you whenever you make eye contact.
This gives you a chance to practice vulnerability, which can deepen your relationships, and also tells the people around you that you're friendly and approachable.
4. Put down your phone when someone talks to you and give them your full attention.
It's tempting to check our email or Facebook page—studies show this actually gives us a boost of dopamine, the "feel good" chemical. Resisting the urge shows others that they're worthy of our full attention, and nothing feels better than that.
5. Email yourself a note of appreciation—for anything—to read whenever you need a reminder of how awesome you are.
Most of us treat ourselves more harshly than we'd ever treat others. You're doing better than you think, so give yourself some credit. You'll feel better about yourself and, consequently, you’ll be better for the people around you.
There are billions of people in this world, and we’re connected to more of each other than ever. But one loving engagement can be far more powerful than a thousand likes.
None of us deserve to feel alone, and we don’t have to—if we’re willing to do our part to remove the distance.
Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and create a life you love. To strengthen your relationships, get her new book, Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges. For daily quotes, insights, and inspiration, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter and Facebook.