Emotional connection amongst people has been be a recurring theme in my life over the last few weeks. Various have conversations have steered towards discussions around connection between two people, amongst groups, its lack, and its importance. In order to richly discuss connection, we must first have a clear understanding of what it is.
I was speaking to a friend recently who lamented that a romantic partner left her citing a lack of deep connection as the cause. She grappled with this, as she felt she had a strong emotional bond and deep comfort with that partner. She wasn’t certain what he meant by “deep connection.” On one hand, there’s the “you feel it or you don’t” camp that reduces connection to an intuitive feeling. I do feel it is possible to more finely resolve the conditions that foster that feeling. Strangely, computers, distinctly inhuman human creations, might point to a basic framework we can use to describe connection.
In computer networking, a connection is established when two nodes are able to send and receive from each other. A connection is maintained by mutual pings which have a statutory response, pong. As long as pongs follow pings, one node perceives a connection. There can be some lag in determining when a connection is lost, and there are many ways for connections to fail.
Surely we have all experienced a failing connection in video conferencing. Sometimes our own perception of the connection failing precedes the software client’s awareness that there’s an issue. There is an expected time allowance for a response, and that time allowance is the margin for being unaware that a connection is no longer. It is also possible that a node may be sending and receiving while the other side of the connection is only sending, which could do undetected for a period of a time, until what is being received betrays that sent messages are not going through (such as a ping failing to receive a pong, or instead receiving a pang). The failure modes are plentiful, all revealing that the crux of connection is mutuality and reciprocity. Human emotional connection is no different.
For humans to be connected emotionally, they must have empathy for the other. Empathy is feeling the other. That is like the receiving signal. They must also send and share their emotions, which can be a bit more subtle.
The word emote has a connotation of going beyond the normal level of emotional sharing. It implies sharing extra emotion, as we naturally express emotion through our words, facial expressions, body language, and more. This seems to suggest that humans should not no issues sharing emotions with another, but that’s not the case. It is possible for a failure to send emotions to be the failure mode in connection.
While the default for most humans is to share emotions, trauma of all sorts and perhaps other factor can lead to us closing off. We can hide our emotions from others and we mostly do this subconsciously; without intention or knowing. For many, we do this the most when we develop a close connection, especially romantic, with someone. I would place this somewhere on the spectrum of avoidance, though one need not necessarily have an avoidant attachment style to have such emotional blocks. Various shades of mental illness and psychiatric drugs like mood stabilizers, which functionally can be more like mood neutralizers, can also block the sharing of emotions. Whatever the cause, not expressing or showing emotions is a blocker to human connection.
The formula for human connection is simple. First, feel the other. Have genuine empathy. For some this comes more easily than others but unless you’re a psychopath, you have empathy and can hone and increase empathy through conscious effort. Second, make sure to clear any blockers to expressing feelings and emotions. Take a hard look and see if you are always or sometimes shutting yourself off. Ask if others can tell how you’re feeling. If people can’t pick up on emotional states like being happy or sad, some force within you is masking your feelings from others. If all of this is done, you are doing your part to make the connection. You can never guarantee connection, because the rest is on the other, to do all of the same. When two or more people fall into a flux of feeling and sharing emotions, that forms the basis for human connection.