Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.
You can fool some of the people some of the time, but fooling yourself for any length of time turns out to be a fools’ game. In order to increase your chances for happiness and life satisfaction you need to know what is really important to you and honestly face the question of why you have or don’t have it, and if you have it, how to keep it.
While there are always mitigating circumstances for unhappiness and frustration, still, everyone plays an active role in creating what happens to them. As Pogo once said, We have sighted the enemy and it is us.
Satisfying relationships are built on the powerful base of mutual Trust which, in turn, requires that one be as honest with one’s self as you need to be with others who are important to you. These words are easy to say or write but acting on the basis of transparency and forthrightness, takes a whole lot of courage. Trust requires “nakedness”: no hiding behind false smiles or masks of politeness. D’nile is not just a river in Egypt.
The majority of people long for a relationship in which they are the most important person to someone special and that person feels the same way about them. We are mammals; we need to be touched, held, fed and cuddled. We flourish when we are embraced by love and love in return. Then, as long as the relationship exists, it is a source of personal strength and confidence.
But – despite LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and millions of blog sites, there are many lonely people in our world. While vast numbers of people have hundreds, even thousands of “friends” in the digital universe, the majority of these relationships are between strangers and they play no part in the reality of our life. Thus, digital relationships don’t and can’t come near to meeting what most of us need, no matter how many of these connections exist in the vastness of the ether.
We live now in a hyper-connected world. In the midst of more connections with more people than we have time or energy to relate to, there are billions of people who feel lonely, frightened and scared. This is the nightmare of being in Times Square on New Years’ Eve, feeling you are the only person without a partner or friend in the midst of thousands of joyous couples.
Deep commitment to relationships and to institutions has been replaced in many cases by casual hookups, relationships that last only as long as the participants feel they’re getting more than they’re giving. And the institutions of government, business and religion have lost much of their constituencies as many people see them as deliberately oblivious to the needs of their members. Most institutions are seen as making decisions and acting in ways that say they don’t give a fig about people.
This means that for most people their feelings of fear and anger are appropriate and therefore normal. Just knowing that can be comforting.
Many people actually want contradictory things: deeply satisfying relationships and, simultaneously they want to be free to be and do whatever they want. The only way we can reconcile these divergent paths is through Trust. Trust is the real glue of relationships and, at the same time, Trust creates confidence in the relationship which enables you to give others the space and freedom they want. In contrast, Mistrust encourages suspicion which results in the bondage and limits of tight reins.
People who mistrust live in paranoid fear and seek to control the actions of others; those who trust can let go. Unfortunately, it is much harder to achieve and sustain Trust than it is to fall into Mistrust and stay there. But it is possible to work on achieving mutual Trust and achieve it when you know which conditions make that happen and which assumptions make it impossible.
This is also the age of narcissism and entitlement. Narcissists are absorbed by their self and feel no responsibility and have little interest in how the rest of the world is doing. Entitled people may be able to care about others but their strongest motives are to get everything the world owes them which is everything they want.
Unremitting Self-absorption combined with the presumption the world owes me because I exist, lead to relationships based on Me and never Us. Satisfying relationships that involve serious commitment and longevity always involve mutual trust and respect between the parties as well as with institutions. Relationships involving Narcissists and those who feel entitled are always one-way streets; self-preoccupation does not include others. These relationships last only as long as the getting is good. Normal people who have a full complement of feelings who are in such relationships should and do feel betrayed and alone.
Being honest with yourself and aware of how your words and behaviors affect others is a critical base from which to create a relationship of Us. Self-knowledge is difficult to achieve and takes courage and confidence to achieve. But it is the condition that sets us free to trust and be trusted and nothing is more valuable than that.