How do I improve my emotional connections?

Can you imagine starting a text conversation with someone, but they cannot receive your texts, they can only send you texts? Imagine they go on about their day and never notice you haven’t responded. Or maybe they are telling you about something awful that happened to them, but you cannot send a sympathetic response. It can be frustrating to not be able to connect with someone!

Situations like that occur every day in our interactions with people and it is easy to let commonplace interactions slip by without experiencing actual emotional connection. An emotional connection occurs when feelings are heard, and the meanings behind them are understood. Those emotions may be happiness, joy, anger, sadness, disgust, pride, fear, surprise and shame.

The feelings, along with their meanings, are often subjectively and uniquely individual to the person who has them. When the person we are talking to seeks to understand them by building an emotional bridge, they develop that connection with us.

The earliest examples of connection can be seen between an infant and mother. Emotional connections are often therefore non verbal; often, what is seen and the tones spoken are more important than the words we hear. Tiny facial expressions, which we don’t even know we are demonstrating, are called “microexpressions.” When we pay attention, these microexpressions can tell us a lot about ourselves and what others are feeling.

If you notice you are having some trouble connecting with others, often feel unheard, or often feel like you leave conversations not having heard the other person, here are a few tips to improve your emotional connection:

  1.  When you are trying to connect to someone’s emotions, put away or silence phones and other distractions. Practice being present; focus on the other person and consider what the common distractions are that break that presence.  
  2.  Try to feel and understand in your own body what specific emotions feel like. Try to describe how the actual sensations feel in your chest, abdomen, muscles, legs, and head. You may use words like: warmth, heat, tightness, heaviness, tingling, expansiveness, numbness, tenseness, cold, lightness and calm. Over time this will help you know how to better communicate your own emotions and therefore build emotional connections with others. For example, when experiencing joy you might feel elation in your head and warmth throughout your body. Sharing this can build a connection with someone when they know how good you feel.  
  3.  Work on learning about the basic emotions and how they are uniquely expressed in your face. After learning to read microexpression emotions in others, I found it easier to feel those emotions on my own face. I was able to connect particular names of emotions with body sensations: anger (tight chested), disgust (sick feeling), and fear (heaviness on the chest) are a few examples.
  4.  Start to consider the meanings behind each emotion. Anger usually has a primal goal of connecting and protecting with others. If you are angry, chances are a boundary was crossed and you feel like you need to protect yourself or someone you love. Discussing this openly can often diffuse your anger, and bring it down to a manageable state.
  5.  When tuning into someone else, see how your sensations in your own body change. This can help you understand what emotions the other might be feeling.
  6. When you feel another’s emotions, let them know.  or example, “As you say that, I feel some sadness; this must be really hard for you.” Or “I can tell you feel proud for you daughter’s accomplishment, what a joy!” Giving empathy is a healthy part of communication and emotional connection.
  7.  After expressing your understanding of what might be going on, be open to understanding and learning about deeper meanings from the person. If they correct you, be open (and even excited) for their feedback. It is constructive to get closer to the meaning they are trying to communicate.

Please comment below your own thoughts on this (I still have a lot to learn!) and also any examples you might have of moments of building an emotional connection.