I have the privilege of working closely with a number of people who, like most of the world, are struggling with day-to-day living in this era of pandemic. This probably is the first time in our memories that we have been as dependent as we are on relationships to maintain our own mental health.
We also contribute to the degrees of mental health of others. The degrees to which this reciprocal process within relationships is all about the dynamics of each relationship. It depends, to an extent, if the relationship is more superficial than deep and meaningful or deeper and more meaningful than superficial.
I think we live in a world of superficiality these days. The emphasis and almost reliance on social media for connections; those being superficial, artificial and overly focused on presenting the appearance of happiness, contentment, and success. We look at apps to help us feel connected to calming messages and to podcasts to allow us the feeling that we are part of a conversation when in reality we are merely observers. These can all be valuable ways of experiencing some level of connection with others, but I suspect somewhere inside we are not getting the relational nutrients needed for real mental health.
All this leads to an epidemic of loneliness, with feelings of sadness and discontent. We are struggling in profoundly deeper ways when it appears that everyone else is not only surviving but thriving based on the images being presented in social media.
This is what I hear in my many conversations with people who are struggling with depression and anxiety. They are missing in-depth relationships that allow levels of emotional intimacy that the more common superficial ones cannot provide.
What contributes to more meaningful, deeper and intimate relationships that can promote feelings of real connection with others? What we can look for in our relationships is something called the genuine encounter, a concept attributed to the 19th century philosopher Martin Buber. How can we be contributors in our relationships to promote the emotional and relational health of others?
Relationships need pathways that allow each person to experience emotional safety and acceptance. Some of the components of deeper relationships include the desire on each person’s part to be connected. This also needs to be accompanied by the freedom to be vulnerable, authentic, honest and not needing to censor one’s words, transparent—the whole “warts and all” philosophy Additionally, we need the gift of time where there is no rush to tell a story and no pressure to immediately solve problems or come to conclusions.
Relationships that contribute to building and maintaining each person’s mental health are the ones that allow each person to deeply process their day-to-day experiences and stories, to freely and openly reveal deep feelings, including fears, even when those fears are over-exaggerated and often the result of the exhaustion of the unrelenting stress. This allows each person to genuinely love the other person.
The gift of love is no joke. It is the antidote for so much of the pain today. It can be challenging to know how to love another person and even who to love, because love involves taking the risk of being vulnerable, creating the potential for being hurt. Defining love, understanding the nature of love and the drive to find meaningful love are the subjects of songs, books and poems.
As romantic as the concept of love seems, I suggest that genuine love requires deep relationships. In today’s world especially, we are dependent on deep relationships built on love to help us through the craziness around us. We also need to be contributors who promote deep relationships with others in order to give them the gifts of safety, connection, value, worthiness, significance, and feeling loved in the eyes of another person.
Consider how deep your relationships with significant others are can help you determine why you may or may not be feeling isolated, lonely and despairing. Or it may explain why you are feeling reasonably assured that you have the kind of deep relationships in your life that allow genuine encounters and the freedom to experience relational depth and intimacy. Our loving deep relationships give us a safe place to land and release some of the emotional tension life today is bringing.
Invitation for Reflection:
- When you think of relationships you have, which are the ones that you would describe as deep, significant and meaningful to you?
- What is it about each of these relationships that contributes to your mental health?
- How are you contributing to the mental health of those with whom you have deep relationships?
- What are some specific things you can do to nurture the depth of these relationships so that you can experience genuine encounters and the gift of deep love, compassion, caring, and the confidence that you each want to build and maintain significant connection?
- What do you need to do to find and nurture meaningful, deep relationships with others if you do not feel you have them right now?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute