4 Reasons Relationships Are Crucial to Our Well-Being
By Austin Houghtaling, PHD, LMFT
Why We Need Each Other
4 Reasons Relationships are Crucial to Our Well-Being
An excerpt from the Onsite Journal Vol. 2 by Austin Houghtaling, PHD, LMFT
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an introvert.
I remember clearly in high school fantasizing about living remotely in the hills of Scotland, alone, and only coming into town periodically for essentials. After some solid daydreaming, I had a gut impression that seemed to say, “Fun idea, but you know you can’t do that. You need to influence and be influenced by people.”
I still have moments when that fantasy sounds particularly enticing. But I now recognize how living out such an existence would hold me back. Living this way would keep me from accomplishing and experiencing things that matter to me. I believe it would have kept me from fulfilling what I refer to as my divine responsibility to rub shoulders with people and all of our ingredients as humans—joy, humor, pain, suffering, trauma, resilience, grace, mercy, justice, forgiveness, and emotions.
Working in the therapeutic and emotional wellness space, I witness people that approach the “do it alone” technique from two different motivations: wounding and spite.
Many people act from a place of wounding, betrayal, or abandonment—in short, they seek out doing life alone due to unresolved trauma. For those individuals, proximity to people has become synonymous with pain. As a famous line from Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit says, “Hell is other people.”
Sometimes, on tense days, I think he is right. However, if I’m honest, many of my favorite life moments have been in the company of another person.
I believe there are four primary reasons that we need other people.
REASON 1: We heal and grow in relationship
It’s true that we are wounded in relationships. But it is also true that the greatest healing and growth also happens in relationships.
I’ve also worked with people that approach this avoidant life-stance out of spite, in an effort to show the world they don’t need anyone else’s help in order to be successful. Interestingly, these people end up coming to therapy because of the limiting nature of this stance. “Success” is obtained but they still feel empty. Or perhaps they push the self-sabotage button right before attaining their goal—or right after.
More than my natural comfort zone welcomes, I’m learning that much of life has to do with my relationships and interactions with other people. It has also been helpful for me to discern the difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude, under certain conditions, can be restorative.
Our free choice to be alone, and our ability to meaningfully reconnect afterward, are two key indicators of restorative solitude.
In today’s fast-paced world, many people find quietness, pause, and slowing down absolutely intolerable. In one study, people preferred to self-administer an electric shock rather than sit alone with their thoughts for just 15 minutes.
REASON 2: We are seen, heard, and valued in relationship
For me, one of the most compelling examples of this concept—the power of being in relationship with others—has been observing the beauty of group therapy. I am, admittedly, a biased fan of group therapeutic modalities, as they are foundational to the experience
we offer at Onsite. The gains people make when they are willing to vulnerably engage in a group process are inestimable.
There is power in being witnessed, in knowing you are not terminally unique, in recognizing that we really all have the most important parts of humanity in common and can help each other heal—often without even exchanging words. At the end of the day, we all want to be seen, heard, understood, and valued. All the beautiful remote locations in the world cannot provide those four things in the same way a safe, imperfect but compassionate human can.
REASON 3: We see ourselves clearer in relationship
Relationships provide both a mirror and a window to ourselves. We often see ourselves in others—the good and the bad. I’ve long been familiar with the saying, “We project the parts of ourselves we don’t like onto other people,” or more casually, “You spot it, you got it.” While this saying is most commonly applied to negative qualities, I remember a few years ago having a colleague spin it around and apply it to our strengths and virtues as well. This colleague taught that if we’re having a hard time seeing good qualities in ourselves, but it’s easy for us to see them in others, rest assured! Those qualities must reside within us somewhere, even if we’ve lost touch with them.
Identifying positive qualities in others can serve as an invitation to personal introspection.
For example, the next time you observe someone is kind and patient, ask yourself the following: I wonder where my own kindness and patience are manifested?
You might not have the answer immediately. It may even require you asking others to help you see those qualities in yourself. But they are there.
REASON 4: We change ourselves and others through relationship
I believe that genuine connection to others is perhaps the most powerful antidote to some of the largest global issues we face: racism, prejudice, oppression, indifference, ignorance, and callousness. When I see myself in you, and really look into your eyes, mind, and heart, it is very difficult to not be changed, educated, refreshed, uplifted, and softened.
“It’s hard to hate people up close.” — BRENÉ BROWN
Connection can promote attunement, which can inform beliefs, which can promote correction and repair, and then impact behaviors, policies, and cultures. I’ve experienced feelings of fear and insecurity when associating with people or groups I know little about. Without fail, every time I lean into those relationships, I leave better. Better educated. Better connected. Better aware. Better at empathy. A sense of inclusion and a desire to include prevails. Stereotypes are shattered. New perspective is born. Life is richer. And I’m glad. I want people to give me that chance as well. We need each other.
I will make it to the hills of Scotland someday. It remains on my bucket list. I hope it is an overcast, slightly damp day that connects me to my childhood home in the Pacific Northwest. I will practice some solitude there. And then I’ll come back to family and friends and practice sharing it with them as well as listen to them about their own journeys that refuel them.
We are exquisitely designed to connect with others—let’s embrace rather than resist this uniquely human opportunity.
AUSTIN HOUGHTALING, PHD, LMFT, has extensive experience working with healthcare professionals, entertainers, executives, and attorneys in intensive experiential therapy and personal growth programs focusing on emotional intelligence and relationship improvement for individuals, couples, and families.
Onsite has several programs that facilitate healing within the safety of a healthy community. Our Living Centered Program is our most popular in-person group experiential workshop that will help you gain the tools to address what’s holding you back and create a plan to move forward. The Healing Trauma Program is a group experiential workshop that addresses the pain and disconnection that many experiences after being affected by trauma. The Healthy Love and Relationships Program addresses historical wounds that have created ongoing dysfunctional relational patterns.