The Secret to Creating Better and More Intimate Connections with Others
What would happen if we practiced emotional hygiene as diligently as we wash our hands?
In the spirit of relationships that my last two emails were about, here comes another one to illuminate what is required for intimacy, which especially in these times, I hope you experience plenty of!
When we feel safe in relationships we can have the most wonderful and nourishing experiences. They can truly be all that we have ever dreamt of. The very ground in which we can unravel the knots from our past and give and receive everything we ever wanted.
And the opposite is also true: when we feel unsafe in relationships, we can have the most painful, messy, and wounding experiences. They are able to completely throw us off center, trigger us in our past traumas and suck the entire juice out of our souls, making it difficult to live a good life.
Therefore practicing ‘emotional hygiene’ and ‘tracking’ our own triggers becomes as vital to our emotional well-being and safety as washing our hands. It’s what brings the element of trust into our relating and helps us to deal with our own personal flaws in a way that deepens intimacy, rather than putting us into a position of victimhood.
How do we do that?
In order to create safe relationships with others, we have to, of course, start with ourselves. We need to learn to track our inner world and be able to communicate and own up to it. It means to become aware of our own experience and be honest about it.
It’s the opposite of manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, and control. It’s taking full ownership of our feeling state and not blaming anyone else for it.
Emotional hygiene is the key to safe relationships
Let me share an example of what emotional hygiene doesn’t look like. It’s an example that is personal and yet so common among many who I speak to:
I can remember my dad being a workaholic, and whenever I complained about it (that he didn’t have enough time for us kids), he would say that he does it all for us, so that we would have a better future.
That explanation was never satisfactory to me and in fact, made me only feel resentment towards him and diminish my trust in his word.
I’m sure that he actually fully believed in it, so it wasn’t that he was lying. But he was not aware of the deeper layers that we as kids were totally able to feel but did not know what to make of it. Probably because of his own traumas, he was not fully connected to the wholeness of himself.
If he had been emotionally hygienic and had fully owned his stuff, he could have said something like:
Sweetheart, I hear your request and longing to connect more. I really am trying my best to be there for you. But right now I don’t see another way. I am aware that I am working so hard because I am scared that you will have it as hard as I did when I was young. I know it’s my fear that doesn’t allow me to stop. It has nothing to do with you. I just don’t know any other way.
Woohoo! Imagine your dad saying that to you! Wouldn’t that have made a difference in the life of a young child?
First, he acknowledges the feelings and needs of the child. It feels received.
Then he expresses his own desire for connection, meaning it isn’t just a one-way street. He too wants to connect. That’s very reassuring and the child feels it's not alone.
Then he owns his fear and he withdraws all responsibility from the child.
And in the end, he is vulnerable by naming his limitations: he just doesn’t know any other way. Which relaxes the child into knowing that it’s safe to have their own limitations and vulnerabilities.
The Real Problem
“It’s not our experience that makes us miserable but our judgment of it”, Buddha
Under each habit pattern, there is a subconscious need that is driving us. We need to become familiar with that and willing to be vulnerable. And the only way we can is by carving out some stillness for ourselves. Otherwise, we move through life on auto-pilot, from trigger to trigger, without ever checking in whether we are still on track or unaware of what the destination was in the first place.
Becoming aware of the wholeness of our being is called tracking. A willingness to stay curiously engaged in our moment-to-moment experience without making it wrong.
The ‘not making it wrong’-part is the absolute key here. It’s not our experience that makes us miserable but our judgment of it. When we experience something that doesn’t feel ‘good’, we often try to fix it, get rid of it, or heal it. Anything in order not to have to feel it.
But it’s this very rejecting of our experience that actually causes our suffering. It’s this way of making ourselves wrong that keeps us stuck and then retort to all kinds of ‘unhygienic’ behavior.
The emotional ‘viruses’ are not negative or uncomfortable emotions. It’s judging and rejecting ourselves, thinking we are not good enough. The emotional soap that is needed to become safe for others is truthfulness and vulnerability.
Take the example of my dad. He probably didn’t like the fact that he wasn’t able to connect with his children deeper. But that was his experience and as he didn’t have the tools nor the awareness to change that pattern, he needed to create a story (I’m doing it for my children) that would still allow him to feel good about himself. It was his coping mechanism that worked to some level but it left us children wanting, not feeling 100% safe with him.
To create safe relationships, learn to honestly speak about your experience without making it wrong. That will give everyone around you the permission to do the same.
To Sum It Up
Emotional hygiene simply means:
I take care of my inner state and I don’t blame or shame others for it. It means I am mature enough to take care of my own well-being and to be in full ownership of my choices.
And to do so you need enough
stillness to be able to feel what moves inside of you
willingness to track and own your experience without making yourself wrong and
vulnerability and honesty to share that with your loved ones, even if it’s painful or scary
Practicing these three gives the space for trust, safety, and connection to grow and deepen.
In my experience I know relationships are safe when I feel good in them. And I mean the kind of good that makes me feel more connected to myself, more trusting of my own inner world. It’s the feeling of being received and acknowledged even if I still have work to do on myself.
It’s the experience of being accepted for who I am that can only happen when I accept myself first. It feels good, alive, open, and juicy.
And, of course, relationships are often messy. But I believe it’s only because we haven’t really been given the tools to take care of our emotional hygiene. And even when you are starting to become more aware, more responsible, more honest, and more vulnerable…it will still take a lot of practice.
“There is no such thing as an enlightened human being. Only a human being with enlightened moments.” Christian Pankhurst, founder of HeartIQ
There are layers upon layers that need peeling away in each single one of us as we relearn how to trust ourselves and be connected to our own core. We will slip and mess up often. And yet, if we truly want to heal we don’t really have a choice. We have to take the risk over and over again and do it together.
We need others to heal and grow.