Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D
Has anyone ever told you, “I feel so comfortable with you; it’s as if we have known each other all our lives? Or, have you ever said to someone else, “I feel that we are soul mates?”
This type of intimacy, which we call “I to I”, occurs when one’s true self or essence makes an authentic connection with that same aspect of another, resulting in a memorable and highly positive experience. We seem to register this kind of mutual connection at an intuitive level, making it feel somewhat mysterious. It likely also occurs when many variables come into play, making it difficult to describe or explain.
What we do know about “I to I” relationships is that ego concerns are set aside. These include underlying agendas, our need to control the process or outcome, and the desire to have others conform to our needs or values. In contrast, in an “I to I” interaction, we accept the other person unconditionally, and we are truly present with and for that person.
One of the authors once had a dramatic and unexpected experience with such a connection. While living in the countryside, a neighbor who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, used to stop by to chat. One day upon leaving, he said: “You are the only person who talks to me like I am a normal person, not someone with a mental disorder.” Upon reflection, the author realized that she was responding to his essence — to the essential person he was (and always had been) that lay beneath the layers of behaviors that were brought about by his schizophrenia (e.g., anxiety, poor eye contact, disorganized thinking). During those conversations, she was somehow able to remain focused on his true self, that aspect of him that was unaffected by his schizophrenia and, similarly, he was able to connect with hers.
What is the climate in which an authentic connection thrives? It seems to occur when we are open, not shut down; celebrating the other, not competing with him or her; accepting, not judging; focused on the other, not self-absorbed.
Regrettably, our egos often get in the way in making an I-to-I connection.
Barriers to Making an Authentic Connection
In order to clear the path for an authentic I-to-I connection, we need to remove some of these common barriers:
Sometimes we come into an interaction with an agenda, for example: “What is in this for me?” “How can I influence this person to think or behave my way?”
In our very busy culture, it’s hard to be present and focused on the “now”. For instance, we are sitting with a friend who wants feedback on a family issue but we are distracted by interfering thoughts and our immediate needs. We’re thinking about what we need to get at the grocery store for dinner. We’re worried about a project deadline.
Over the years we have built up layers and layers of defenses against being hurt, disappointed, or manipulated by others. We also have mastered the different roles we must adopt in life (e.g., parent, manager, teacher). Unfortunately, these roles can interfere with our ability to make a true interpersonal connection; they are like a mask we wear, preventing us from revealing our true nature.
We often walk into relationships with unconscious needs, which can blind us in seeing the whole person. When the person turns out to be unlike we thought they were; for example, highly limited, we become disappointed, disallusioned and/or unable to relate. For instance, we are drawn to, then befriend someone who is intelligent, witty, and funny. Later, we realize that we have neglected to recognize some very important limitations in them that threaten to derail the friendship. We did not see those qualities initially because of our tunnel vision and blinding needs.
Making an Authentic Connection
Imagine you had an hour long conversation with a stranger in a park where you felt a deep, soulful connection. What happened that led you to believe this? Perhaps, it was one of the following:
*You felt safe, trusting, and without the need to defend yourself — you were open to the other person.
*You experienced the other as being fully present with you and you with him or her.
*You felt unconditionally accepted. For example, you were not judged, interrupted, or stereotyped.
*You felt the other person really listened to you and that what you said interested him or her.
*You did not feel interrupted or competed with by comments the other said.
Sound more like an encounter with Jesus or the Dalai Lama?
Surely, we are not likely to meet someone where all of the conditions noted above have been met, but sometimes a connection is made that seems to transcend the mundane or every day, leaving us moved as well as capturing our imagination.
Think of a time when you made an I-to-I connection. What do you think happened between the two of you?
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