For years I have been reluctant to form personal social relationships due to a lack of trust I have for people. My past experiences have caused me to be protective of my feelings and personal details about myself, mostly out of fear of repeat experiences.
My lack of trust began in high school after a number of betrayals from “friends” socially and physically. I completely understand the perspective of others that do not form personal relationships of any kind due to the same experiences. Those who have felt deep pain at the hands or actions of perceived friends have a difficulty trusting, as a result people are forming fewer connections.
I find people saying they only care about themselves because people are not to be trusted. It has even become cool to have a selfish and “couldn't care less” attitude. To varying degrees I agree, that there needs to be some form of self- protection against the actions of individuals with foul intentions.
This is why more individuals are choosing to have no friends, distant families, remain single, myself included. However, are we causing ourselves more harm by shutting people out? Could we protect ourselves and still form personal social connections? Is it possible to have meaningful relationships without the fear of being vulnerable?
Once we forgive ourselves for allowing the hurt and forgive those who have hurt us, I believe there is a way to develop personal relationships and trust. The benefits of having personal relationships outweigh the potential risk of living life in fear and alone, it is unavoidable.
In my majors I have become knowledgeable about social determinants of health, one of which is social connections. The type and number of personal relationships an individual has is a major determinant of their health. An article from Psychology Today written by Emma M. Seppälä PhD, states that social connection is a greater determinant of health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. The article goes on to explain how social connections are connected to self-esteem, cooperation, and longevity.
However, studies are showing that Americans are becoming more isolated, lonely, depressed as a result of having fewer personal connections. Over the last 30 years the personal connections the average person has went from three to one.
Based on a study referred to in the article brain imaging shows the same areas of the brain activated by physical pain are activated during emotional pain. Human instinct is to avoid what hurts, so naturally we associate the emotional hurts of the past with all people and should be avoided. My therapists asked me, “How do you determine if and when a person will hurt you?"
I could not give a clear answer; I usually just trust my gut. I began to process the question later in the day to conclude, that if I am always in a state of defense, my brain will process a minor offense as a huge red flag, alarming me to avoid the "offender." I could be sabotaging the opportunity to gain a meaningful connection and relationship.
I am not talking about connections on social media to clarify. I am speaking of meeting people in public whether in a class, work, restaurant, or activity and having a conversation. The people we meet today have the potential to be one of the most rewarding relationships in a lifetime. The perfect example of this in my life is a friendship I developed just last summer with my friend Lawrence.
We attended a couple of classes together, but we never had a conversation until we went on a study abroad trip. Since then, our friendship has been one of the most fulfilling connections I have in years with a heterosexual man. Admittedly, I am more lenient on women with my trust versus men, which explains how significant taking the steps to allow myself to be open has developed a friendship.
A line from my favorite movie The Fault In Our Stars, “pain demands to be felt.” Physical and emotional pain demands our attention, but eventually, ends and turns into strength.
Pain can be survived so why not give yourself the opportunity to meet new people, try trusting more and more, because there is no way of knowing who you may meet that could positively impact your life. If you do find yourself hurt, allow yourself to forgive, grow, and learn, but do not let yourself believe isolation and avoidance is beneficial.
Science continues to prove that individuals who choose to isolate themselves, live short, unhealthy and unfulfilling lives. Trust yourself to take a chance all you have to gain is strength.