Bridging the gap: our neurological need for connection
I spoke again with Ryan just after the thirtieth interview I held for my book on creativity and entrepreneurship, trauma and happiness. I sorta lost sight of my book at this point, as “I just love talking with people,” I laughed. “I love to connect with people. I realized that, by connecting with others, I learn more about myself.”
I contemplated the idea that trauma is a tool for creativity, and did some more research — both through conversation, and articles. It didn't even occur to me that through the act of researching and writing this very book, I was satisfying my basic needs.
Listening to other people’s experiences and perspectives has allowed me to shift my perception — starting with perception of self. My perception of self had been skewed because I focused on thought as opposed to feeling, trying to distract the feelings away by creating external structures. The thoughts, though, weren't even my own; they were things I was told I “should” think. Sharing stories and experiences with others allowed me to find a common ground with which to identify: feelings. When we established we held the same feelings regardless of differing experiences, we were more open to listening and identifying with each other as we shared our stories.
Finding common ground allows us to further identify with the speaker, the “main character” in their own story; we can put ourselves in their place. Now empathizing and seeing the world through their eyes, we can shift our own perception of those around us, and shift our perception of self.
One of our neurological needs is that of social connection. In fact, without those social connections from birth, we would die; we wouldn’t be able to fulfill our other needs of food and water, warmth, or the security to close our eyes and rest. This means that our bodies are wired to first seek connection in order to provide for our other needs. When these internal and external needs are met and satisfied, we are happy. In this way, happiness is like a scale; we are happy when we are in balance.
While creativity is a spectrum, happiness is a scale.
In his book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” Matthew D. Lieberman, Ph.D. connects our primal instincts of survival mode to an innate need for social connection in order to feel fulfilled:
“Our brains evolved to experience threats to our social connections in much the same way they experience physical pain...the neural link between social and physical pain also ensures that staying socially connected will be a lifelong need, like food and warmth” (5).
Creating connections to others is a human need hardwired into our brains. Connections with others are what makes us happy and healthy. Just as a house satisfies our need for warmth on an external level, a stronger social network instils in us a sense of security on an internal level.
What’s more, when you connect with people who have different ideas and experiences, you’re now learning different thoughts to think. When so many new thoughts work together, they help to broaden your perspective. You’ll be able to communicate in new ways, connect with even more people and the world around you — and with your core value.
I knew that sharing stories with others made me feel “connected” in a sense that I wasn’t the only person experiencing certain feelings. This research and understanding further validated my feelings. I was now able to see the truth about connection hindered by feelings linked to past pain — negative thoughts that I was alone, that no one else could identify with my pain, that no one else could help me to help myself. It turns out, I just hadn’t made those connections yet.
Through sharing our perspectives, I truly saw the gap bridged between “artists” and “entrepreneurs.” I made a high-level comparison:
Both ends of the spectrum have a drive to create out of trauma, out of a need for a validation for which they haven't been given the tools to provide for themselves.
Both output their own external products or processes in order to communicate their feelings, and they communicate these things in different ways.
Each end of the spectrum has a strength:
Those who self-identify solely as a “creative” have a vulnerability they express through their creation. They may have focused more on feelings than thoughts. Their work helps to create connections with others, a self-reflective practice that simultaneously helps to create a sense of self and personal security they can take with them anywhere, regardless of food, warmth and sleep.
Those who self-identify solely as an “entrepreneur” in the prescriptive sense have learned to compartmentalize emotions so they can focus on an externally-accepted product. These products can yield monetary value, providing a sense of external security in order to thrive in our society.
Each end of the spectrum has a weakness:
Those who self-identify solely as a “creative” often only survive in our society, rather than thrive, due to society's value placement on financial worth. This group can dismiss technological or digital tools for growth in our external environment because it feels inauthentic. They struggle to communicate their feelings in a format that is taught and socially acceptable in our society.
Those who self-identify solely as an “entrepreneur” often thrive economically but feel internally empty. They struggle to make interpersonal connections because they relate to others in thoughts rather than with feelings; they don't understand their own internal value system as separate from society's external validation. They grasp at external tools to communicate their feelings, but have not been given the tools to process, understand, and therefore relay them.
Each end of the spectrum, therefore, needs to learn to use and harness the tools of the other. They struggle to communicate what they feel and what they need because they haven't realized their own existence as separate from society’s external structures. While everyone is connected, our feelings of connectedness are masked by what we are told to “think” we want, “should feel” and “are supposed to do.”
Through the conversations I’ve held for the book, and will continue to hold going forward, I aim to bring stories from artists and entrepreneurs who have struggled and overcame this struggle. I’ll share internal tools and emotional information, and actionable steps people have taken in order to achieve balance with self and society — and happiness.
I hope these stories show the differences between finding your own core, internal value as separate from external validation, helping you feel more fulfilled so you can thrive.