By Ellie Miller, MA
With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, the topics of love and relationships seem to be on everyone’s mind. Some people look forward to a day that encourages the celebration of their relationship with another person while others might feel left out. What is it about Valentine’s Day that seems to bring up such strong emotional reactions in people? The answer may relate to people’s desire for connection. In both good and bad times, people tend to seek out others who can share in feelings of happiness or offer support in times of pain. Indeed, Valentine’s Day seems to equally emphasize feelings of connection and accentuate feelings of loneliness, which again begs the question: why are we so invested in feeling connected to others?
According to some researchers and theorists, belonging and connection are essential components of healthy development that sustain us as humans. Personally, feeling connected to other people relieves a lot of mental distress. Regardless of age, when someone is alone in their distress, it is more difficult to cope effectively because it feels like no one understands. Particularly with teenagers, I commonly hear the phrase: “nobody knows what I am going through”. When we feel like no one truly understands what we are going through emotionally, we tend to isolate ourselves more and more. By isolating ourselves we struggle to connect to other people, which eventually results in more extreme feelings of loneliness. This cycle often repeats, and our lonely feelings contribute to depressive and anxious symptoms, which consequently result in more isolation. This cycle is common and can be harmful mentally, physically, and emotionally. In order to break out of the cycle we must try to relate to others to form healthy, meaningful connections with other people.
Although the concept that human relationships are critical to healthy development is straightforward, it can be difficult in everyday life to find resources and ideas for meeting new people and developing meaningful connections. By allowing ourselves to reach out for more connection we are often rewarded by the types of relationships we are able to form. Based on our age, occupation, and level of social comfort, different resources are more attractive and viable than others. For example, young adults in college might wish to explore school-based clubs, organizations, and groups at counseling centers. Younger teens and adolescents might wish to find community resources through sports, religious organizations, gaming groups, community support groups, or political groups, for example. By focusing on finding resources that we find enjoyable or feel passionately about, we have a better likelihood for forming connections with others who share our passions.
Although forming new connections is significant, focusing on the current relationships in our lives is equally important. Sometimes, if we reframe the way we think about and relate to a family member, significant other, or friend, we can connect more meaningfully with those we care about. Simply allowing ourselves to be honest and open with those we care for can open up communication and increase our feelings of closeness!
So, this Valentine’s Day, instead of focusing solely on romantic love or loneliness, think about ways to make your relationships healthier. Move closer to someone in your life by opening up. Branch out and allow yourself to meet new people. The rewards of both can be life-changing!