The Fatal Act of DisconnectionJun 06, 2021
“Connection through self-congruency is the antidote to a lot of life’s problems. When we speak our innate voice and act accordingly, the universe conspires in our favor.” Simon Niblock
Two types of relationships are critical to living happy, fulfilling lives: our relationship with ourselves, and our relationship with others.
When these relationships are nurtured and made a priority, we feel a sense of connection and belonging. However, when one or both forms of relationship are severed, we see an increase in mental health issues in men - most commonly depression.
This sense of disconnection is heavier and more insidious than simply feeling lonely or isolated. Disconnection occurs on a deeper, more fundamental level, and there are a variety of psychological, social and cultural reasons for why this occurs.
Stuffing emotions down, rather than feeling and expressing them, is one cause for disconnection. Yet while it might be convenient to compartmentalize your feelings and sweep difficult emotions under the surface, they always find a way to pop up again, frequently presenting themselves as chronic illness or depression, or sometimes even explosive breakdowns.
Losing our way.
The author of "Lost Connections, Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression", Johann Hari cites that a significant amount of depression diagnosed in our modern, chaotic lives, is because of an imbalance, and disconnection from the things that inherently matter to us the most.
When the way we live does not reflect what we truly value, an incongruence or dissidence occurs. Understanding our relationship with ourselves and our relationships with others is vital. Let’s consider some of the possible ways you might feel out of alignment with, or disconnected from what you value:
- You value adventure but have not taken a real vacation in five years.
- You value your relationship with your parents, but rarely call or visit.
- You value your children but stay late at work instead of attending the baseball game.
- You value creativity, but only allow yourself to do “practical” things with your time.
- You value financial stability, but continually underearn and overspend.
- You value peace and calm, yet you allow yourself to engage in arguments and confrontations.
Disconnection from others.
In our busy modern lives, some days can feel so chaotic the idea of being left alone on a deserted island sounds pretty enticing, but humans are pack animals. We need each other and our psychological and physical wellbeing relies on having social support and a sense of belonging.
In fact, belonging is so important that when some men are faced with rejection, they adopt behaviors to regain favor or regain control of the situation - even if it means acting in a defiant or anti-social behavior way.
Even the best relationships can be challenging at times, but to assess if your relationships with others are healthy, know that a healthy connection involves honesty, trust, respect, and accommodation of each other's needs and desires.
It also includes the respect for healthy independence, with effective communication that creates the opportunity to be heard and understood, without the fear of retribution or retaliation. It's essentially a safe haven to simply be yourself, without second-guessing how you should present yourself to another person.
Disconnection from self.
As infants and small children, we are fully connected with ourselves. We cry when we’re hungry or tired. We smile in the warmth of the sun and laugh when someone makes a silly face. We are totally unencumbered by responsibilities and expectations. We want what we want when we want it and are unconcerned with anything else.
As we age into adulthood, we take on new roles in our jobs and our relationships, often sacrificing our needs and desires in the process.
Sometimes the disconnect between who we really are and how we are living goes on for so long, we can’t even remember what our deepest needs and desires were to begin with.
This disconnect might not result in longing for one specific thing you’re not getting, but in general feelings of unhappiness and discontent. In short, you’re so disconnected from yourself, you don’t even know why you’re depressed and disenchanted with your life.
Maybe you tell yourself that this is just reality, that being an adult is hard and that you just need to man up.
Thankfully, feeling disconnected from yourself does not signal that you’re a responsible grown-up; it signals you have a huge opportunity to improve your life.
Reconnecting the Dots - the Antidote to Disconnection.
The principle of ‘a personal victory before a public victory' stands firm in addressing disconnection and depression.
This implies that before we address the disconnection with the world around us, we need to attend to the disconnection that we have with ourselves. When we are connected with ourselves, we successfully connect with others.
There are three important facets to developing a meaningful connection with ourselves which include self-awareness, unconditional self-acceptance, and congruency.
How do you know if you’re living an incongruent life if you don’t really know yourself? Getting in touch with your true nature is the first step to turning off the autopilot and taking the wheel of your life.
Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of your values, strengths, weakness, habits - essentially, who you are, and why you do what you do.
Re-establishing self-awareness is a process and can take some time, especially if your values, desires and emotions have been negated for a long time. However, here are some simple and direct ways to get started:
1 - Write down your key plans and priorities. One of the best ways to increase self-awareness is to write down what you want to do and track your progress. Notice if your plans feel like things you should be doing, rather than things you truly want to do.
2 - Seek regular feedback. Both informally from friends and others you trust. A good question to ask them is ‘I consider your honest feedback extremely helpful to my personal growth. Is there something that you see me do (think action or behavior) that I could change or improve in order to improve my connection with others?’
Get feedback from colleagues at work and be open to criticism during reviews. We all have blind spots, so what better way to learn about yourself than solicited feedback from others.
3 - Learn what triggers your negative emotions. We’re all activated by situations, things, or people that challenge us. Understanding why things evoke certain responses is a significant step in learning about yourself.
4 - Know what makes you content and happy. Knowing what brings you Zen, bliss, peace, or contentment is important, because if we don’t know what works for us, how can we then seek these things out?
5 - Identify your core values and principles. The elements that create our inner compass allow us to make the right decisions, avoid drama, know right from wrong. This is key in knowing if we are being congruent and authentic.
Fostering Unconditional Self-Acceptance.
It takes courage to go down a path of self-awareness, but what if you’re not sure you like the person you discover?
Elbert Ellis (1996), an American psychologist considered the second most influential psychotherapist in history described the concept of unconditional self-acceptance as being distilled into two elements: we must accept ourselves entirely as human beings, without any preconditions, in a non-judgmental, non-rating way.
Many of us spend our lives matching up to some illusory idea of who we, or others, think we should be, and so find ourselves anxious, depressed, or ashamed. How to make peace with yourself:
1 - Take time to identify all the positive qualities such as strengths and talents that you possess and find ways to reinforce your awareness of them, such as developing a personal mantra or setting reminders in your phone about how awesome you actually are.
2 - Establish positive self-talk about yourself and learn skills that will help you challenge the negative statements or judgments that you present yourself – see if you can catch yourself with those pesky criticisms that you think.
3 - Explore and challenge how you might definition of success and failure. What can you learn to say to yourself if you felt like you failed at something? Could you offer yourself some much-needed compassion in those moments? Ask yourself, what opportunity or lesson can come from a perceived error or mistake?
4 - Recognize when you are comparing yourself to others or rating yourself low. Remind yourself that comparison is the thief of joy, and that it focuses your attention externally, which can end up being problematic.
Building Congruency and Self-alignment.
Congruence, a term used by Carl Rogers, another significant leader in the field of psychology, to describe a state in which a person's ideal self and actual experience are consistent or very similar.
Congruence means that what you show on the outside - words, actions, body language, etc., matches what is on the inside - thoughts, feelings, body sensations, etc.
If what is on the outside does not reflect what is on the inside one could be said to be out of congruence, or incongruent.
Rogers said that people’s self-concepts often do not exactly match reality. For example, a person may consider himself to be very honest but often lies to his boss about why he is late to work.
Rogers used the term incongruence to refer to the discrepancy between the self-concept and reality. Congruence, on the other hand, is a fairly accurate match between self-concept and reality.
However, Rogers felt that it was rare for a complete state of congruence to exist and that all people experience a certain amount of incongruence.
When you are congruent, something phenomenal happens. You become more confident, you feel more energetic and motivated, you experience calm and clarity, it's easy to make honest decisions and – good things happen, with minimal effort. It’s like the universe conspires to work in your favor.
How Do You Become More Congruent?
1 - Frequently examine your values, beliefs, and principles and use these as guidance when engaging with a situation, experience, or interaction. Ask yourself, how can your actions and behavior remain aligned with your values, beliefs, and principles? An alternative question to ask is does spending energy, time, and other resources on this activity or spending time with this person align with my values?
2 - Ask yourself, what are you avoiding or how are you deceiving yourself? Remember that that deceiving yourself takes more effort to maintain than being honestly aligned. How can you be real with yourself and others?
3 - Reflect on what your ‘ideal self’ might be? What is the vision that you have for yourself? Who do you aspire to be? Who inspires you, and what characteristics do they possess that you would like to adopt?
Disconnection from oneself and others may lead to feelings of dissonance and depression, but regardless of how long you’ve felt this way, this experience is not irreversible.
When you know and accept your true self, and then have the courage to calibrate your life according to your values, purpose, and principles, you get to live the best life you envision for yourself.
Debrief and Digest.
- Disconnection from the things that inherently matter to us the most, including our own true self is the primary source of mental health issues and reduced quality of life.
- The three facets to developing a meaningful connection with ourselves which include self-awareness, unconditional self-acceptance, and congruency.
- When we are inherently congruent, we become more confident, energetic, and motivated. We experience calm and clarity, and good things happen, with minimal effort.
If you’re ready to reignite a sense of purpose and fulfillment in your life, I hope you’ll work through the steps provided throughout this article.
Of course, if you feel as though you need more personalized guidance, such as a one-on-one session, or group support, please contact me here.
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Simon G. Niblock, MA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in men’s mental health and wellness. He provides tailored psychotherapy services and online programs for men and is the author of the Anxiety Workbook for Men, Evidence-based Exercises to Manage Anxiety, Depression, and Worry.