In a world where we’re more connected than ever through technology and social media, we feel more disconnected, more alone, than ever before. I see it every weekend when I work as a nurse in a busy emergency clinic at a public hospital in Perth and we see it in government statistics for anxiety, depression and suicide.
Theories abound about the causes of our feelings of loneliness, our sense of isolation. Let’s face it, we all want to be ‘seen’, accepted, understood - it’s at the core of our being. But so many people say: ‘Nobody really knows me’ or ‘Nobody gets me’.
Why have we reached this point as a society? One answer could lie in neuroscience – in the way our nervous systems are wired for connectedness and belonging. We see our need for belonging playing out in the way we seek to connect with others - through partners, families, sporting teams, peer groups, church communities and clubs.
One way of looking at the problem of disconnectedness is through the lens of how our behaviour facilitates or blocks connectedness. We may hide behind a mask and not reveal our true selves for fear of harsh judgement or rejection. We may push our real self to the background, so we appear the way we think those around us want us to be. I realise now that I was guilty of this when I was growing up and it sabotaged my early relationships.
As a child, I didn’t believe I was going to be loved adequately by my parents if I wasn’t overly responsible and independent. I didn’t think my parents ever wanted to see a crying, weak child. So I left that part of me behind, became very strong, resourceful, and independent. But the part of me that I’d left behind was the part of me that I needed to integrate into my whole being so that I could better connect with people. To do that however, I had to be confident I’d be accepted for who I am.
Now that I’ve reconnected, integrated my different selves, I want to empower other women to do the same. And in so doing create communities of belonging. To do this you need a frame of reference from which to begin your journey, but for some it’s difficult grasp this concept of reference and do something with it.
I realised how important reference is when I took my car for a service the other day. I was skilled at using the car mirrors to reverse down my steep, narrow driveway because I learnt to do it as a teenager when I started to drive - I lived in a house in the southern suburbs of Melbourne with a long, steep, narrow driveway. So I had a great reference for using my mirrors. However, the other day my reference for reversing a car failed me when the loan car had a reversing camera. I had no idea how to use it and was at a loss when it came to navigating down my driveway. I just didn’t have the neurological wiring to know how to use this piece of equipment - I didn’t have a reference for using it.
Fear is similar. A lot of us don’t have a reference for knowing what to do with our fear in a resourceful way – we still rely on the primitive reptilian response of fight or flight. So while we’re not stepping into fear and owning it, we’re using an avoidance strategy that again isolates us, stops us from connecting and having a sense of belonging.
I see this in the conversations I have with some of my clients. We discuss how they can step out of their fears and own them. My clients say they’re afraid, but you have to break that down and understand what they’re afraid of, where it’s coming from, before you can come up with solutions.
I’ll be sharing these insights, sharing ways of empowering women to identify the sources of their fears and how to find their own answers at Opportunity International Australia’s Women4Women event on 18 April in Perth.
I’d like the women coming to the Women4Women event to go away inspired to recover the parts of themselves they have left behind in order to survive. Find the substantive version of themselves they have left behind so they feel safe and accepted by those around them. I would love for the Women4Women participants to leave the event empowered to integrate all parts of themselves - to create a sense of wholeness. To be confident they can be genuinely seen by the world and in doing that have a solid understanding they belong. In this way, they’ll be able to give back so much more to their families, communities, workplaces, the world around them.
I love that Opportunity empowers women in developing countries to find their own solutions to poverty. To use tools like small loans to build businesses or health education to help them reduce child mortality from preventable illnesses. My values are closely aligned to the approach taken by Opportunity in empowering women to break out of the cycle of poverty in which their families have been trapped for generations.
Liz McCoy’s is speaking about ways of empowering women to create communities of acceptance and belonging at Opportunity’s Women4Women event in Perth on 18 April 2018.
To Register click here.