A lot of people talk about the healing power of community and connection. But what are they talking about and how does it work?
I’ll tell you a true story.
After years of isolation from developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I sat in a cafe one evening and journaled on how I was feeling. To my utter shock I came to the conclusion that I was lonely. And I always had been. I had been surrounded by people all my life, attracting a tight band of friends and family through my 20s, but I felt disconnect, misunderstood, alone and very sad.
I would spend years digging into these feelings and the patterns behind them, but more immediately I decided to try to rectify some of the hurt by finding people and places I could go to connect. I joined a yoga class, researched retreats and got a counsellor.
The yoga class was my biggest hope. I imagined a room full of bright faced open people, ready to connect, welcome me in and build relationships based on shared interests and experiences. This was going to be my saviour.
I only ended up going to 3 classes before I gave up, completely defeated and feeling more isolated than ever. No one at the classes had spoken to me, I felt like they didn’t even notice I was there. I was exhausted, beaten and despairing.
It was years before I found myself again trying groups and community events, and on that second time around, something very different happened. I was seen, heard and welcomed in. I was even invited to join in with other activities outside the groups, and found people who wanted to know me as friends and colleagues. I felt happy, validated and energised.
So what happened?
Why in my most desperate hour, when I needed connection and community the most, did I experience such feelings of rejection and despair?
Looking back on who I was, how I have evolved and what I have learnt from the journey, it’s very clear to me now that it was about what parts of myself I was showing up with to these groups.
When I first tried to reach out, the parts that were most present in that group setting were:
The Victim – “no one loves me and I’m so lonely, I’ve been so badly treated, people will see my pain and offer to save me”.
The Achiever – “this will be the best thing ever and I will make my best friend right now and everything will be perfect”.
The People Pleaser – “I’ll fit in with what everyone is doing and saying and be kind and generous to everyone and then they will love me”.
I expected unrealistic things from the group, I was desperate for attention and love, and I was stuck in the ‘poor me, I’m so in pain and so lonely, why wont anyone help and love me’ mentality.
I was so wounded and desperate for love that I was nowhere near my authentic self. I was living in the layers of protection mechanisms that had served me through childhood as my survival strategy. But outside the family unit, there were places and people that it was safe to be my true self around, but I hadn’t realised that at this point in my journey.
So, fast forward a few years of healing, challenging beliefs, retraining the brain, releasing negative emotion, getting to know my true self and my skills and purpose. I still felt isolated so tried again to connect – on day retreats, yoga and Qi Gong classes, TreeSisters groves, a community garden, online groups.
I met new people, felt welcomed and felt that healing connection that I’d read about so much but had never before experienced. What had changed?
I was showing up with different parts of myself. I was showing up connected to my authentic self. I wasn’t arriving in a group of people with desperation and victim-hood emanating out of me. I had accepted myself as I am, had some love and respect for my qualities, and looked to others for an energetic connection, not for a saviour.
No person out there can be the parent that I never had. No one can fill that void of rejection, being unloved and attacked. That is not why we connect to others, it is not why community is so healing and loving. What we crave – the love and respect, acceptance and approval, comfort and safety: it comes from within. The deep inner work of the healing journey is this – to love yourself.
Community is so healing because it can provide a safe container for us to do this inner work in – if it’s the right community that is. Joining a motorcycle club probably won’t create a safe space in which to heal the wound of an absent father, but a healing community, a women’s circle, a journaling or brain retraining community, yes, they just might 🙂
Community is so healing because in that community we find reflections of ourself, others that are on the journey of self-discovery, transformation and empowerment. Their stories can inspire, guide and comfort us. In this space we can learn to trust more, be vulnerable, and release beliefs and behaviours that no longer serve us.
Community is so healing because in it, when we are courageous enough to be vulnerable and completely honest about how we are feeling, we find validation. I can not emphasise enough how transformational this can be – to feel validated for our feelings. It can be a big step to really respecting and loving ourselves, loving every part of ourselves, the hard and the soft.
Community is so healing because it is a place to be heard and seen. When we bring our most authentic self to others, and do not modify that self to please, get attention, help, achieve or play the victim, those others have a choice – stay or go. When we can trust ourselves to be our truest self, the people around us are the ones that are meant to be there, the ones on board with our truth and passions. We’re not meant to be for everyone, but we all have a tribe and the only way to find it is to shine out our most beautiful, truthful, loving self.
We’re stronger together, supporting each other, listening, releasing and sharing issues and joys, working together towards common goals, taking the strain when another needs help and then receiving that help back when we most need it.
We are social beings, our biology is social. When we are in community, with those we enjoy and respect, our healing and happy hormones are set off – oxytocin is the hormone of love, and when it’s being produced, we are in a healing state.
The joy of shared interests can be so energising and feel into our sense of self and purpose too, becoming a source of power and energy.
I tried to use community as a way to save me from my pain, like a princess in the top of the tower screaming out for the prince to come and save me.
My community now holds my true bold self, and sees the example I set as the princess that decided to climb out of that tower, scramble, jump, ease and fall my way down, pick myself up limping and bruised, and walk head held high into the sunset as the powerful, loving, purposeful being I was born as.
The Women’s Wellness Circle welcomes you to make this exploration in a safe, supported and authentic space. We are here to honour and support your truest self. In that self is the health and happiness you’ve been craving. Our delight is to see you shine.
To take a safe and supported step into being in a healing and transformative community setting, come to our yearly UK retreat running soon, where Frances and I will hold the space for you to explore deepening your connection to your most authentic, loving self – see full details here.
Inviting you into a loving and healing community,
To work with Jen and our team of experienced coaches, Join The Women’s Wellness Circle – an online community of big-hearted, courageous women ready to support you to fully recover your health and give your gifts to the world.
Receive our free ‘Five Steps to Reclaim Your Health’ course – an inspiring and practical mini-course for women with chronic health challenges who want to live a healthy and purposeful life.
Do you know any big, hearted, courageous women who are healing from chronic health challenges? Share this blog with them and spread the love ~ they’ll thank you for it.
Jen Evans: Women’s Wellness Circle Co-Director and Coach
Jen is a dedicated and compassionate Wellness Coach, EFT and Matrix Reimprinting Practitioner (EFTi Accredited), teacher, writer and (slightly obsessive!) herb gardener.
Jen spent a lifetime with stress-related illnesses that culminated in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2012. Through her recovery journey she tried – well, everything – and truly started to heal after joining the Gupta Program (for which she is now a coach).
She now strives to support and develop nurturing spaces for others to connect with their true self, and realise their abundant power to heal and live purposeful, passionate, fulfilled lives.