I can’t decide whether my heightened sensitivity to others is a silver lining or a curse. The restrictions on my social circle dictated by the pandemic have provided me with opportunities for smaller gatherings and a more intense sharing of time. Along with that comes the microscope and mirror. A magnified experience of my interactions. A reflection of myself as I am triggered by others. And a longing for connection.
It seems to me that what I need for connection isn’t necessarily what works for others. Or maybe it is. Maybe they are making a choice to avoid a deeper conversation. Or to control the topics of discussion. To keep it safe. Or to keep it centred on them. Or both. When I sense that happening, I too turn inward. Don’t you want to know about me? And more to the point, what about my ego? When is it my turn to tell you about my life? How I am feeling and managing. Where’s your interest beyond yourself? That’s what my ego is asking.
I believe that we all do what we need to maintain a sense of safety. The focus inward, on self, is necessary to maintain our construct. It’s necessary to maintain a fragile ego. It’s a necessary shield from our fears. I need to believe that it’s not about me. It isn’t intentional disregard. It’s an unconscious battle of egos. It’s my deciding that I deserve inquiry and attention. So, I am bruised when I don’t get it.
The perceived one-way interaction used to fuel resentment within. Now, coupled with a raw sensitivity, is the sense that I am having the energy sucked out of me. My balloon fueled with connective fuel at first gets a pinprick leak in it. The longer I attempt to engage, to summon the oxygen feed of curiosity and dialogue, the faster the balloon loses air–until it is folding in on itself. Until I become quiet and spent. I take what little is left and become the observer. Removed from the middle, no longer a conduit in the conversation. Sometimes, if I haven’t quite given up, I may attempt to inject a random or provocative comment. It usually comes from frustration, hurt or boredom. Or all three.
I have observed that some people are born with an innate tendency to be outwardly focused. Others are not. My Aunt Ruth was a beautiful soul blessed with connective energy that could be felt when she entered the room. My memory of her deep brown eyes and soft inquiring voice is a vivid reminder of her warmth and attention, even many years after her death. She would sit beside me in a room full of people and be curious and interested in me, in my life. It was a rare gift for me. As the youngest and only girl in our family, there wasn’t much attentive energy left. It had been sucked out by my older brothers and Mom’s scotch bottle. And my father had no idea what girls needed. So, he did what was best for him. They loved as best they could.
Today I aspire to be like my Aunt Ruth. Though I lack her luxuriously thick dark hair and unhurried aura. I am seeking within me the connective energy and compassion that I believe she was born with. I don’t know if her energy and interest in others ever ran out. If her balloon ever deflated and collapsed in on itself as mine sometimes does. I believe that as she passed away on a late October night under the harvest moon, that she still had more to give. I know I must never abandon my quest for connection. It’s my oxygen.
At least, that has been my experience.