We all crave emotional connection. From the moment we are born to the day we die we long to be with others and to feel connected to them. And yet, at times it feels like this is one of the hardest things to achieve in life.
Our social media streams are oversaturated with information on love, relationships and intimacy. This expert recommends this and that professional advises that but we are not really sure what is and what isn’t working and why. It all feels wrong and weird and uncomfortable. It also mostly feels like guesswork.
And yet, despite the perceived complexity, when we look into it, emotional connection is made up of just three components: emotional attunement, responsiveness and engagement.
“Emotional attunement, responsiveness and engagement are the three components that make up emotional connection.”
Emotional attunement describes the process of reading another person’s emotional cues. It is about empathising with someone and trying to understand their experience from their point of view. It is about seeking to understand them genuinely so we can react in alignment with their state of mind and current need.
“Emotional attunement takes place in the now. It is something that requires presence. Without presence there cannot be emotional attunement.”
When we are emotionally attuned to another person, we can sense their emotional state and what they need from us in that moment. We are open, receptive and compassionate towards them. We are present and genuinely interested in being with the other person.
Emotional responsiveness is about responding appropriately, sensitively and compassionately to what the other person needs in this moment. The more attuned we are, the better our responses will match the other’s need.
“Where attunement grows, responsiveness flows.”
When we are responsive, we don’t turn away from the other person. We don’t fear their feelings or react to their state of mind by becoming defensive or closed down. We respond to others in an attuned way by engaging with them authentically and sensitively in the moment.
Emotional engagement is the third pillar or emotional connection and is about being actively engaged with the other person. This means turning towards our partner and actively participating in an interaction or conversation.
In parent-child and romantic relationships engagement often has a strong physical element to it. We touch, stroke and caress. But we also engage with others by smiling, laughing together or mirroring body language.
Relationships cannot thrive without active engagement. When we miss responding to emotional cues by remaining passive, we don’t contribute towards our relationship. This is usually perceived as a lack of interest, coldness, dismissiveness, neglect or rejection by the other person, which always destabilises our sense of emotional safety within the relationship.
Innate Skills for Connection
Thousands of books and courses attempt to help by trying to teach us skills for connecting. While the skills described are almost always loving expressions, what most books never even attempt to address is the root cause of perceived disconnection.
We are being asked to fake something on the outside that does not match what is going on for us on the inside. And since we are intuitive, social beings, we can tell. We know when things are off and we know when being with someone else just feels awkward and weird.
Having to learn skills is based on the assumption that we lack the skills needed for connecting with others. But how can that possibly be true?
We were perfectly able to connect to others as babies and children so we know that we do have the skills. We are not lacking. We are not broken. So what is the problem?
The problem is that we are scared.
Fear is the only thing that will ever get in the way of connecting to others – and ourselves.
So instead of learning skills and faking what from a certain state of mind does not come naturally, we must first address the source of our discomfort: the thought-based fears within ourselves. Once we tend to this, the rest will follow effortlessly …
“Emotional attunement, responsiveness and engagement are not new skills we have to learn. They are innate tools for connection that we were born with.”
Emotionally Connecting to Ourselves
We all want loving relationships with others. But how healthy and loving is the relationship we have with ourselves?
We have to enquire and ask ourselves:
- How well do I attune to myself? How quickly do I know what is going on for me?
- How well and compassionately do I respond to myself? Do I deny my experience or do I amend my behaviour to match what is going on for me?
- How deeply do I engage with myself? Do I make changes and act in ways that make life enjoyable for me?
If we are unwilling to engage with ourselves, we will not have fulfilling and healthy adult relationships. We will approach others from a place of perceived lack and act out of misunderstood need or even desperation. This is not a basis for a healthy relationship.
We must practice on ourselves first. In order to have loving relationships with others, we must have a loving relationship with ourselves. There is nothing to be afraid of. All we are trying to do is quieting the fearful noise in our heads so we can reconnect with what is and always has been there: innate wellbeing and love.
“To masterfully enhance and nourish our intimate relationship with emotional attunement, responsiveness and engagement, we need to have a deep practical understanding of it in our relationship with ourselves. Knowing what is going on for ourselves will help us respond appropriately from our place of innate wisdom so we can lovingly engage with ourselves and life itself.”
The Simplicity of Love
Our minds overcomplicate the way we connect with others. We have thoughts about how we should be and what we should say and what no one should ever say … rules after rules after rules after rules. What is meant to flow naturally has now become stilted.
When we look at emotional connection with clarity, we see that it consists of just three innate skills: attunement, responsiveness and engagement.
So don’t let fear cloud that clarity. Don’t listen to the voices that tell you that it’s too hard or impossible for you. It is not. You have always known how to do it. Liberate yourself from fearful thinking and allow yourself to feel the connection that is always available to you.