What Connection Really Means
What do you think connection is?
After 20 years working with others in relationships, we’ve realized that there are many misconceptions around this idea of connection.
So this week on the podcast we want to dive into what connection really is so you can understand what is occurring in your relationships.
We’ll explain the different poles of feelings, what connection is not, how you lose connection, and much more.
This is an information heavy podcast full of examples and real stories that we hope will help you understand the connections you have in your real relationships.
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CrisMarie: Welcome to the Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home, and everywhere else in your life. I'm CrisMarie.
Susan: And I'm Susan. We run a company called Thrive, and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication, and building strong thriving teams and relationships. Conflict shows up in our lives in so many ways. Most people unfortunately, are not very good at handling conflict. Most people have never been taught the right tools for dealing with conflict. And then it leads to unnecessary friction, arguments, passive aggressive emails, tears, hurtful comments, stuckness, all kinds of things we don't want. We're on a mission to change all of that.
CrisMarie: We spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way. We're here to show you that conflict doesn't have to be scary and overwhelming. With the right tools, you can turn a moment of conflict into a moment of reinvention. Conflict can pave the way into a beautiful new system at work, a new way of leading your team, a new way of parenting, a new chapter of your marriage where you feel more connected than ever before. Conflict can lead to beautiful things.
So, today we are going to talk about connection. And the reason we're talking about this is, a CBC reporter actually reached out to Susan, you, and wanted to talk about connection versus isolation. And we thought there are a lot of misconceptions both at work and in personal relationships about the idea about connection, and we may not even recognize when we isolate or separate, and how that may be impacting our overall sense of health and aliveness and joy in life.
Susan: Well, we want to cover that today in a number of different ways. Maybe we should start off just by talking about one thing, and I like to start this one thing connection is not... I think a lot of times people think connection equals closeness, and we think that, and this was one of the things that's fascinating about the conversation I had in this interview, is that really connection isn't about necessarily about closeness. It could include for sure, but connection is really a lot more about location and also congruence, which we're going to talk about and define. Because I see CrisMarie looking at me like.
CrisMarie: Well, I know people that I start these ideas with don't really understand, location, what do you mean? So, why don't we start there?
Susan: Okay, we can start there.
CrisMarie: Because, remember when you talk about feelings, if you haven't read this in our
book, I imagine you might've heard it on our podcast in previous episodes. Feelings are in the body, and we don't do the 72 feeling words. We actually do open or closed, or close or distant, or warm or cold, are you contracting or expanding? Those are the two poles of feelings, physiological feelings. So, in relationship to you Susan, when I'm upset with you, I have a felt sense of being very distant, closed, cold, all of those would fit, or they would pit at different times, versus... And it doesn't mean that I'm physically distant from you, but I am psychologically pulling away.
Susan: And that ability to locate, and to me, well, it also has a lot to do with, there's a lot of things that are going on inside of me, and so I need to be able to, am I contracting, and am I expanding? That's all about a way of helping myself begin to really feel that me access inside of me what is going on. And then what generally happens is I maybe don't want to share it with you because I don't want to tell you I'm distant or that I'm upset. And that is where you actually lose the connection, there's a separation that occurs. And if you pretend you're close, it doesn't work because it's not congruent. And this is where the other word comes in. So, when we talk about location, we're talking about that idea of locating close, distant, open, closed. And when we talk about congruence, we're talking about the willingness to say, this is what's going on inside of me and it matches the outside. So that someone who you would know, oh, what she's saying here matches for me over here.
CrisMarie: And we are very sophisticated beings in some ways, and we have grown up trying to pretend we don't feel the way we do because we're trying to fit into a group, and it's not appropriate to be angry, or scared, or sad at different times. So we often, even inside of us, we may not know what we feel, but externally, the person around us can pick up on that incongruence. And for some reason it just doesn't feel right. I don't feel... Horses do this all the time. That's why we work with horses, or work with people using horses, is because if the person is not congruent, if they're afraid, but they're saying, "Hey, I'm okay." The horse is like, "You're dangerous dude, I'm walking away." Because their safety relies on that congruence. And so as soon as the person says, "Well, you know what, I am afraid." The horse comes closer.
Susan: That's a simple example, but so profound with horses because they are constantly reading for more of an energetic plane in their bodies, and we don't tend to do that.
CrisMarie: Well, we do. I think we do at some subconscious level, we have that ability, and we've dampened it to fit into our society. And that's why working with horses helps people become more congruent and increase their influence and leadership in the relationships that they have.
Susan: And this might be a good time to talk about this idea, because this all comes up around the notion of trauma. There's connection and there's separation. Let's just put it. And that really what distinguishes the two in us as human beings, often it has to do with trauma. And it's really easy in our culture to talk about big traumas, or we're beginning to recognize them.
CrisMarie: And I just want to say to some of you listeners out there, some people don't even like the word trauma. That is like, "Whoa." But we all have different forms of trauma, really meaning separations. So, simplify trauma down to just separation. Yeah.
Susan: And then there's the big T traumas, which are the events in your lives that were, they could be worldwide events. It could be 911, it could also be when I had cancer, that was a traumatic event. When I got told... not so much when I got told I had cancer, but it actually got worse for me when I got told the treatments weren't working, and I had six months to live. That was where I felt totally separated from the, wait a minute, this is not a very traumatic event. More that than the other.
CrisMarie: Or it could be big traumas of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, those are the biggies when you're young, or even when you have a failure. I work with executives who've experienced failure and it's a huge trauma for them, and I've had my own. Or even somebody dies or a divorce, those are the big Ts that create like, there really can be quite world rocking inside of you.
Susan: And those for sure are places where normally people, because of the crisis get it. But the thing we may not always pay attention to in our culture at all, we are a culture that tends to think people have to do it right, be perfect, be ideal. And that projection creates little T traumas all the time.
CrisMarie: It does, you could imagine they're not earth shattering, but they definitely send a message that I'm not okay. And so, if I'm... I wasn't very athletic growing up. And so I was the last to be picked in dodgeball. So, that's a little trauma. I start to tell a story about myself that I'm not good, and I may try to cover up that I'm not athletic, or I'm just going to separate from all athletics altogether. Which I didn't, I came back for rowing. But those start to create-
Susan: But it carried on, because even in your rowing career when you finally lost, you weren't perfect. You actually gave up the whole-
CrisMarie: Yes, that became a big trauma when I lost at the Olympics in 88. I was like, I want nothing to do with rowing, athletics. I'm going to go try to rebuild my sense of self in some other pursuit, which was business.
Susan: And for me, I remember when I was young and the event in my life that stood out was that I couldn't read very well. But I did have this ability to memorize my sisters reading me books. So, the next day I could come in and I managed to get myself all the way through to fourth grade before anyone realized she's not really reading.
CrisMarie: She's got a real problem.
Susan: And not only that, but I thought they should recognize me for my brilliance in being able to memorize books. But that's not what happened, what happened was I had to stay back after school every afternoon for an entire year because I was dyslexic and couldn't read. And in my world that translated to I was stupid. So, here was this brilliance on some level of... it could've been-
CrisMarie: Figuring out a way through it.
Susan: Way through it. And instead I ended up feeling stupid. And that's the trigger word for me all the time.
CrisMarie: Some people would say that might be a medium T, not a big T, but not the little T, but it's something that kind of... What happens is when we experience something where we're not okay, like I have a goal, I'm not meeting the goal. I want to be pretty, I want to be thin, I want whatever it is, I want to spell right, I want to be even, you should be happy. When I'm not meeting that I fall short and I generate self hate. So, I'm beating myself up and I really want to separate from that part of me that's not pretty enough. I'm mean to my body because it's not athletic, or it's not thin enough. Whatever it is, I make it wrong, many of us make that part wrong. And we're separating inside of us from different parts of ourselves.
Susan: It's kind of funny because it's got me thinking about this, which may derail us, but we'll see. So, this idea of big T versus little T, I was thinking possibly big T's are significant events that you know you can deal with-
CrisMarie: Significant emotional events.
Susan: Yeah, that occur that happen. Versus T, why the little T, why I was thinking my whole spelling thing stupid thing is a little T is because it kept coming up in different forms. So, it wasn't a onetime event that... I gave you a onetime event, which could be why you called it a medium T. Because I often work with people and they're, we've even talked about whether what kind of work might help them. And I think sometimes for big T you at least have an event. It's kind of change, you have an event you can focus on, not that, that makes it any easier.
CrisMarie: But you could do EMDR, or you can go to Haven and do a come alive on that specific event.
Susan: Yeah. And sometimes these little Ts, why they're so insidious and difficult is you don't even know how often you've created this separation. And you may not even realize these patterns because they become patterns that have been built up over the years to keep yourself safe and comfortable.
CrisMarie: I remember when you're saying that, my mom when I was five, she went back to school to be a dietician. And so she outlawed sugar in the house, which I was five. Everybody was eating ding dongs, and I had carrot sticks and apples at lunch. I felt that was a form of separation.
Susan: Yes it is, I should not laugh at you.
CrisMarie: No. But then she would also grab the back of my arm and say, honey, I think you're a little too heavy. She did this all the way through, she did it when I was 49 or 52 at our house. And I just have always thought it's kind of that insidious. I get it, that insidious little working on I'm never skinny enough, and I should always be aware. And if I'm not, I'm a bad person. Her whole... you're valuable if you're in the right weight zone. And I'm like, oh my gosh.
Susan: Well, and what's interesting about what you're saying is that's the story you built up about it.
CrisMarie: And it related to my worth.
Susan: Now, and here's how you could keep yourself separated from inside of you. You don't appreciate yourself. And who knows? I don't know about your mom, I actually have seen pinch your arm. So, I do think-
CrisMarie: See, it's great.
Susan: But I was thinking about how sometimes something, someone tells you something. I'm sure my teacher thought she was helping me learn to read.
CrisMarie: You thought it was a penalty, but she was actually trying to help you.
Susan: She was trying to help. And that's the thing that's so hard about these things. It's like sometimes we don't know the impact of one really loud event, one thing we say to someone. Unless, somehow that gets communicated. And in that communication is where connection can occur. And all too often what happens instead, is we just separate and it gets further and further apart.
CrisMarie: Well, and I could even see that with my mom. I can avoid my mom because, and not even realizing there's probably other layers of why she does different things like that. And so I just separate, I'm just not going to visit as much. I'm not going to pick up the phone. Well, the visiting because she can see me and pinch me. But versus saying, letting her know. Do you recognize the impact, well, I want to let you know the impact this has had on me. It has really shaken my self esteem and made me feel like I'm not okay if I'm a certain weight. And she may even say, that's true honey, you're not okay.
Susan: She got to be a whole different connection, that's what we mean. For you it may bring you back into more connection with her if she just said, it's true, I do struggle-
CrisMarie: Because again, let's reiterate this. Connection is not about agreeing or closeness, it's actually about seeing the other person congruently where they are. And it may create more distance, but if I were to reveal that and say, "Wow mom, that makes me feel more distant from you." That would still be a form of connection.
Susan: Yeah. And my guess is, in that congruence whether you're close or distant, you will feel some sort of connection to her. And that actually can-
CrisMarie: Again, connection not closeness.
Susan: Yeah. And then when you get back inside yourself, you actually have more choice. And I think, and actually can begin to tolerate somebody being different than you. And even have potentially some understanding of your mom, but doesn't mean it's right for you or fit. And that's when I actually really I think healing and reconnection takes place.
CrisMarie: Which really, the forms of separation that we have inside of ourselves. Like I'm going to separate from my "fat" body, and I'm going to separate from my mom. So, we have separation inside of us and we also have separation in the relationship. And the key is can I build a bridge to even recognize how I'm separating. Because I wasn't aware of the insidious nature of that little T, and can I actually build a container to feel my feelings, which some part of me feels disgusted when I'm overweight. And can I tolerate that? Not make it all of me, but feel that energy and be curious about it, not let it consume me, not try to get rid of it, but actually be interested because some part of me feels shame about my weight.
Susan: So, this takes me back to... I think I was talking earlier about my own trauma experience with cancer. And one of the things and that really shifted for me in my experience with cancer was when I realized, and Bruce slipped in someone, these are my own cells, they weren't some foreign cell. And suddenly that awakened my curiosity, this is not about just getting rid of these cells. Yeah, sure. I would go in for chemo and want to get rid of the ones that had really lost control, but maybe, but the idea was suddenly it became something that I could become curious about. What is this? And that actually shifted that curiosity about my cancer, my cancer cells, what it meant, started a whole different journey, which for me is what really led to health. And when I was more just in this fight zone, I just want to get rid of this. I don't know... That was actually much more of a separation. And for me the path back to wholeness was to become more curious. And that connected me more to me.
CrisMarie: Because I do say... And I don't know if this is Bruce Lipton or Ben and Jack, the idea that cancer evolves. That there's a growth, a growth that's not connected to the mothership of the head or whatever. And to become curious is a way to create that connection and-
Susan: And then you have to understand it, because I think the Bruce Lipton's idea is you either grow or defend. And cells at some point when they've lost communication to the mothership, create their own module and grow prolifically. That's probably way too simple. And the key hits, all of that though awakened my curiosity about it. So instead of being so separate, I started to look at what is it that I'm not listening to, communicating? What about me has gone underground? What can I begin to explore? The key was not to make myself wrong or make myself to blame for cancer, but to become curious, that's very different.
CrisMarie: To turn towards it versus turning away and pushing it away, which is the same idea with weight. And so many of us women struggle with the shame of weight, and I want to just push it away and all that, versus can I actually turn towards it?
Susan: Yeah. I have a belly issue. I really have had a longstanding-
CrisMarie: My mom is not pinching your belly.
Susan: I know, but I'm just saying, I know that. What you're saying is so true. And when I can actually have more compassion and be in dialogue with my belly or whatever else, I think I eat healthier, I feel better. I don't know if I actually lose weight or not, I don't get on the scale. So there's just a whole healthier process.
CrisMarie: So, the whole idea about connection within the self is actually this me access that we talk about in the book is really building a bridge to what am I thinking? What am I feeling? What is going on with my body? And can I actually be interested, because it's there for some good reason. We just haven't untangled the code, if there's a disease there or an issue.
Susan: And I think that's why we talk about this idea that when you're working to help yourself get back into a place of wholeness, that breath and breathing and really filling up and noticing where are the sensations, where am I uncomfortable? And inviting that to begin to explore what is going on inside of me.
CrisMarie: Because I think so often, I lived my life from the head up. And my body was a tool that I needed to boss around and make do. And whenever it was hurt or sick, it was like betraying me. And that right there, I'm separating from my own physical being. And even I repressed my emotions because I thought emotion is bad. So again, separating from me and trying to please and achieve, but really living a whole more alive life is me connecting into what I feel and using that information. It's there for some good reason to make different decisions.
Susan: And so when we work with people, one of the first things we start with is using your breath. And this isn't about meditation because meditation and not that meditation is bad, it's a green thing.
CrisMarie: We meditate.
Susan: But it's more about breathing fully, using that enrichment of oxygen to really fill up and notice why am I blocking, why am I holding, why am I uncomfortable? So you can build more of a tolerance, because when you can build more of a tolerance for your emotions, whatever they are, and sit in them and be in them, all your physical symptoms whatever they are, cancer, bad back, whatever, and still just be interested, then you have a large enough container that you might, and you know enough that you could have more of a relationship outside of yourself. It could be more congruent anyway.
CrisMarie: Yes. Well, and even that I'm a mind body coach and a lot of that is creating that connection, and being interested and recognizing that our soul actually talks to us through our emotions and our physicality. And so often we're trying to bypass that to do a good job in our productive society. And so slowing down breath is the fastest way to actually take from your head all the way down into your body, and turn up the volume of what you're really feeling inside.
Susan: And that is we're emphasizing the me access right now. And then the idea for connection beyond, that's the interconnection. Okay, Interconnection. To begin to create that connection and congruency outside. That's where we come to the WE, and the ability to actually be vulnerable and share, reveal what you know and have discovered about yourself, and then be curious about the impact. And the key to being able to do that is really how well you can tolerate the tension and uncertainty that comes up, and not just try to create closeness.
CrisMarie: And that's so often. This comes up with, it's come up with me with Susan because I am the type of person who likes to have time just with myself. And typically what I would try to do is say, "Susan, on our weekends, Susan, you should go golfing." Or , "Don't you want to go skiing?" So you see I'm talking all about her and she sometimes would be like, "Well no, I don't." And I still haven't gotten my goal of kicking her out of the house, so that I can have my alone time. But when I can actually say, "You know what, I want to spend time just with myself today." That's a very... Tell me where I'm wrong Susan. But that lands for you very different than don't you want to go skiing, or aren't you going to go writing at the coffee shop or?
Susan: Yeah, because for me when you say I'm going to do something for myself, it's like, oh, when you're telling me I should go golfing or, if I'm in a good space I'm just like, "Oh, maybe yeah" And if I'm in a bad space, "What's wrong? Why are you telling me there's something wrong? Why are you making me leave the house?" And so yeah, when you actually locate yourself, then I can figure out, okay, so what am I going to do with that? Do I feel close or distant or? And I could figure out what I need to do. And for me it's like what I realized where I struggle in this, in the WE access, is sometimes I don't like to acknowledge when I don't feel safe or when I'm not comfortable. So, while we lead safety, I don't even like to use the word. So, there you go. Helplessness would be another one.
And when I feel that what happens for me is I quickly go, what comes out on the outside I think is people experience me as angry. I'm kind of pushing away because I don't want to look at my own sense of helplessness, or acknowledge that I feel unsafe. So I do a lot to block it. And as soon as I recognize that, that really what I want is connection or contact. And when I can get there, it shifts in a heartbeat. But it is so hard. It usually means I have to feel something. And usually what I have to feel is that sense of disconnection or dislocation that I don't like to feel. But when I do, I can come back up with oh code, now I have choice. I could just acknowledge that. It doesn't mean I'm going to get closeness, but I could get contact, which will help me stay more congruent with me.
CrisMarie: Because the benefit of contact, again, not closeness, but contact is you're connected inside of you, and you're also revealing it to the other person. So, there's congruence when your insides match your outsides. And you can stay, that's a form of connection. Even if you say I'm very distant from you, it matches. And people actually, even though they may not like that you're distant, there's a sense of ahhh, like a settling because they feel that sense of congruence.
Susan: Yeah. So this is sort of our exploration of connection, and we'd love to hear from you that you listen to some of the thoughts. And CrisMarie is going to summarize it.
CrisMarie: No. I was going to say something that we, any form of disease or mental illness, physical illness, even feeling spiritually not fulfilled, that's usually because I am separating from something in me. I am making something wrong and trying to push it away. I watched this, we watched the show a million... No, This Is Us. It was from This Is Us. And Kevin if you watch the show you'll recognize this. Kevin was talking to Tess, who's his niece, who's trying to come out and she's like 14 or something. And she's like, "Oh, I thought this would be easier. I thought I'd know myself." An she goes how is it uncle Kevin like that? I don't know. She asked him some question. He said, "It's not like you find yourself all at once." He goes, "My experiences as I've gone through life, I find a piece of me, and then I find another piece of me, and then another piece of me.
And that's really what I think many of our lives or certainly my quest, and it's been my felt sense experience that as of allow, when I let in the failure from the Olympic loss and recognized hey, that was me. Stopped trying to resist it and feel so much shame about it, but recognize that and also the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful of that, I got more whole. And then there's even taking more ownership of yeah, my mom did that but I'm okay no matter what size I am. I'm collecting... I know you're anxious to say something.
Susan: Well, oh I love that. Because that's bringing it back fully into this me. That's how you get back to being in your wholeness. It's recognizing you might be a million little pieces. And even though that came from, This Is Us, the idea is-
CrisMarie: We are combining our shows here.
Susan: But it got me thinking about in terms of, that really speaks to the ME and in terms of an intimate relationship. If you want that kind of intimacy with another, you have to be willing to recognize that comes not just from when you're close, but from when your distant, from when the good, bad and the ugly of your relationship, and your willingness and tolerance to share that with each other. And that I think is where people get confused about intimacy or connection, is where it's like they think it looks warm and fuzzy or even loving. It doesn't always look warm and fuzzy.
CrisMarie: I do agree sometimes that it can be the most loving thing is to actually say something that you don't want to hear because it is really what is going on inside of me, or what I really think.
Susan: I just always go back to one of my people, my experience with my mentor, Bernet Wong, who was up at the Haven. And he knew me well and he provided me a space to live. So, I knew he cared deeply about me. But one day I was doing something in my victimness, I don't even know what I was doing. I made some excuse for not connecting or doing something, and he just looked at me and he was like, "I am repulsed by how you just stay a victim." And I remember and it kind of shot in like a repulse was a big word.
CrisMarie: It is a big word.
Susan: I think I was in a meeting. We took a break, and everyone was worried about me. But in my world I suddenly in that moment I got curious about what it was that I was doing, because one thing I heard very clearly from me, he wasn't saying I was repulsive. He was saying he was repulsed, he was very distant. So I got curious. It's kind of like, and that was such an earth changing moment for me because I began to realize, oh, I don't have to make myself wrong for being a victim. I just need to know that when I do that someone else might be repulsed by it. And actually I remember going back to him, and everybody else was stunned. But I was like, walk me through this. How do you see me doing that? And it was like my cancer project. But it was such a great, it was very expansive for me. So-
CrisMarie: What was it clear, and I think what he said, I'm repulsed. He took it about himself. So, I think that's an important point when I say I'm distant. I'm talking about me, not that you're bad, that I am having this reaction over here.
Susan: It may not be the best word to use all the time, repulse, but it was a very... I needed a two by four. And it helped me wake up, and oh-
CrisMarie: And he was giving you a clear location. What is happening over there is not working for me.
Susan: And I will be distant as long as you stay in that place. And I was like, "Oh okay, you're not."
CrisMarie: So, anyway to that idea of self identifying in relationship, that location is quite powerful for you to recognize it, and also it can give the other person information.
Susan: Well, it gave me a chance to relocate myself because he was solid, he was locating, he's given me a very clear place. And then I was realizing, I'm all over the place. And it helped me.
CrisMarie: And I think how often we try to be nice, and we don't say what's really going on for us in relationship to another person. And that's when relationships get really weird and codependent and kind of wrong because I'm not saying, "Hey, the fact that you're being so negative, I'm distanced from that." And risking saying that and then tolerating-
Susan: You do it pretty well now. Sometimes I love it. It just made me think of how the equivalent would be like you will tell me sometimes, I don't like it when you go into your helplessness, and I distance. That's kind of the then moment where I get, oh, am I there? Because then I realize I've gotten my... And sometimes I'm like, "Well, forget you, I'm going to be helpless for awhile, and go find out somebody who's a little more tolerant of it." But other times it's like, oh, I didn't know that, that's where I was stuck.
CrisMarie: I love that you take it as a form of feedback that generally drives you to curiosity, like what is happening? I think that happens even when you have a reaction to it in the initial. You kind of marinade on it and come up with something yourself. Yeah. So, the idea here, so now I'll summarize. Remembering that connection does not mean closeness. It means you're sharing your location, whether that's close or distant, and also being congruent, being willing to reveal right now this is what's happening for me, and being honest about the inside and the outside. And often what gets in the way of that is big traumas, big Ts, and little traumas, which are both, they're just forms of where we've separated inside ourselves and from other people, that's not a safe person. And the way that you can build a bridge to your me access is really breathing and getting curious and interested in what you're feeling, what your thoughts are, the sensations in your body, and expanding your container for your own emotions.
And on the WE access, it's really building a bridge to another person by willing to be vulnerable and share your location, and curious about the impact that, that's having on the other person. And even being able to tolerate inside of you that uncertainty and tension that comes up when they're having a reaction. Because most of us did not learn how to tolerate people's reactions. We changed somehow.
Susan: Well, so we hope that this has been useful for you. And we'd love to hear from you and your thoughts about connection and separation and all the various things we've talked about.
CrisMarie: And we hope you collect pieces of yourself and become more whole in yourself and in your relationships.
Susan: All right, take care.
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CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke
Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict
CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.
They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.
Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn.
Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It!