Creating meaningful connections: Three ways to do it

Mental Health and Wellness
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In our hyper-connected world, when it seems like we can reach out to anyone and everyone with a text, tweet or post, many of us still feel emotionally isolated.

"Forming authentic, supportive relationships requires introspection and courage," says Michele Gallagher, MS, LPC, NCC, a psychotherapist at Mirmont Outpatient Center, part of Main Line Health.

"We create our deepest, most meaningful connections when we share our hurts, vulnerabilities and failures," she says. "But too often, showing our fundamental humanness is not valued and is even belittled, which is why our connections seem shallow and disingenuous." Gallagher offers the following thoughts on building fulfilling relationships.

1. Face your fears

What stops people from sharing their most vulnerable selves?

"Often, it's fear—fear of being judged, misunderstood or a burden to others, as well as hopelessness that nothing will help," Gallagher says. "We get past these fears by realizing that real connection will not occur until we decide to speak with others from the heart. And we also need to realize that connecting is very different from just trying to fit in."

2. Be wise about social media

Gallagher notes that social media is often replacing real relationships rather than enhancing them. Many of her younger patients compare their own lives to the social media profiles of peers whom they have never met in person and feel as though they don't measure up to them. She notes that social media allows people to display a curated version of themselves—a performance, rather than a person.

"Social media is not a replacement for real, face-to-face connection, and relying on it can lead to self-esteem issues and depression," she says. "We need to realize there is a whole world out there beyond our screens."

3. Cherish in-person time

Although the pandemic made it necessary to maintain friendships through texts, calls and posts, it also illuminated how vital it is to meet with each other "in real life."

Gallagher has witnessed the difference in her own practice and why it's more important than ever to create meaningful connections in person.

"When I see a patient in person, there's an energy present that is often harder to get to in a virtual session—we get there, but sometimes it takes a bit longer and requires more effort," she says. "Either way, trust needs to be established with the therapist so a patient is comfortable being vulnerable.

"Once you know and accept yourself, you'll be able to extend that compassion to others," Gallagher concludes. "That's when true connection can begin."

You don't have to navigate the road to mental and emotional wellness alone.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654).

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