What does it mean to be whole? To Feel balanced? I’ve analysed these questions over and over – mostly in personal journeys of self-awareness and growth. Here, I look at them in the context of being in the presence of others, that is, the experience of being whole with company - whether that be family, friends, partners, work colleagues etc.
In re-directing these questions to this particular context, I ask the questions: What does it mean to be whole, not only with yourself but with others too? Is it possible for others to give or add meaning to our lives? Do our friendships support and nurture us? Are they there to complement our differences?
We are often told to focus on striving toward being whole by taking care of ourselves first and foremost, and in doing so we can subsequently be there for others in much greater strength and friendship. What I’m exploring here is how this process of finding wholeness can be supported through the acceptance, interaction and togetherness found with others.
Humans are inherently social beings, with a drive to be close to and to connect with others. In fact, social support has been claimed to directly affect our potential for experiencing happiness, with studies on emotions and thinking showing that we’re actually built to seek social companionship and understanding. We have a need to belong and to have someone we can trust and feel safe with so that we can perceive the world in a much less challenging way.
As I reflect upon my own friendships and the support of my family, I feel appreciation, warmth, and love. Nevertheless, I recognise that my automatic response, at times when I may need my family and friends the most, is to want to distance myself and push them away. I’ve observed this pattern of thought and familiarised myself with its presence much more than I would have liked. I’ve identified how I become much less authentic in the presence of others, with the idea that I’m protecting them from what I’m feeling. Consequently, I’ve felt a growing sense of disconnection within myself, bringing with it fatigue, displacement, confusion, and dis-ease. I’ve drifted away from my sense of well-being and what it means to be whole.
Over the years, I’ve noticed how I’ve often described myself as not being very sociable and more of an introverted individual. Neither of these characteristics need to be perceived negatively, however, perhaps due to the pre-dispositions I hold toward them, and the stigma often associated with them by others, my judgement is that of a negative one.
I understand that by labeling ourselves and others, we tend to invite a very reductionist approach by confining individuals to such labels. What we must remember is that labeling is something that is learnt and adapted. It is not biologically inherent. As such, it can provide a useful framework to try to comprehend the complexities that are humans, but only when used constructively.
With this in mind, there are several things to explore regarding how we perceive ourselves, the labels we impose upon ourselves and others, and how, if used constructively, we can learn from each other and share with each other.
We are all unique individuals, all presenting with different qualities and traits. What we see in ourselves and not in others, and vice versa, does not have to mean that we are any lesser or greater than each other. To be in the presence of someone who appears very sociable and holds the persona of an extroverted individual does not make our own sense of self less valued or undesired. In fact, these characteristics, are a few of many, that contribute toward making us the person we are. By ‘many’ I reiterate that we are indeed very complex beings, and as such, its important to learn to perceive ourselves not as static beings but as very fluid and curious individuals when it comes to how we present ourselves and the characteristics we project to others.
Those of us who perceive ourselves as less sociable and introverted, like myself, may tend to shy away from sociable occasions and will be more comfortable choosing to stay quiet and to listen. We can choose to remain this way, just as equally as we can choose not to. Neither makes us more or less of a presence or deserving of another's company.
Furthermore, we’re often told not to rely on others to ‘complete’ us, but rather to complement each other in our differing qualities. Someone who may be much more sociable and display characteristics of an extrovert has just as much to learn and to share as that of an individual of contrasting characteristics, and vice versa. We are here to support each other, in our different ways, and likewise we are also here to be challenged by one another.
By accepting ourselves and our differences to others, we can allow ourselves to find equanimity and comfort in each other's presence, to be authentic with one another and to recognise the balance created between us. With this consolidation and authenticity we can begin to learn to identify what it feels like to be whole, both in ourselves and with others.