Have you ever read Matt Kahn's quote, "People can only meet you as deeply as they've met themselves?" It's thought-provoking, isn't it?
Let's explore what's behind the need for deep friendships and why some people crave more profound connections while others tend to stick with surface-level interactions like, "How are you? – Fine."
First, I want to acknowledge that, as adults, finding genuine friends can be challenging. Unless you have kids, pets, or are still close to your high school buddies, establishing lasting, meaningful friendships can seem like an uphill battle.
Secondly, keep in mind that friendships, like any other relationship, are built on trust. Trust isn't something that sprouts overnight; it takes time to develop. And the primary way we nurture trust is through shared life experiences.
Now, here's an intriguing tidbit: People who have left dysfunctional family dynamics, churches, cults, or other types of controlling relationships often report difficulties recreating the deep connections they once had. Ever wondered why? I'm here to explore some theories related to the biology of friendships (with little biology and very much oversimplified).
Some researchers in 2014 suggested that difficult experiences, especially pain, build strong bonds between people. “Our findings show that pain is a particularly powerful ingredient in producing bonding and cooperation between those who share painful experiences,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Brock Bastian of the University of New South Wales in Australia.
You might wonder why. Well, it turns out that when we experience pain, our bodies release a chemical called oxytocin (among other things, but I'll keep it very simple). Oxytocin helps us soothe the pain, and when we share our painful experiences with others, we begin associating those people with those memories and experiences – eventually turning them into sources of pleasure.
It's fascinating how many survivors of abusive situations end up feeling grateful for those experiences because they led them to where they are today – healed and better equipped to handle life's challenges. Whenever I hear someone say they're grateful for some painful event in their life, I automatically think they're coping. Positive or borderline magical thinking is the effect of the soothing chemicals that are released each time we experience pain.
These chemicals encourage hopeful thoughts and give credit to the people who were with us during those painful moments. We start to view them as heroes in our stories. These reactions are all the ways we cope with pain and trauma (I believe I should put a link to a source here, but I couldn't find it anymore, so you'll have to google it yourself).
After enduring intense pain, we start to feel like survivors. We sense a depth within us – a knowledge that we've faced physical, emotional, and psychological pain that few others have. In the process, we gain profound wisdom about human experiences, especially pain, and how to cope with it – something unique to us unless someone else has been through similar intensity and pain.
Most survivors often feel isolated in their experiences until they meet someone who understands that depth and perspective on life that comes from surviving pain.
Some of us, when we engage in conversations, we often yearn for more depth. This is because we associate depth with a higher intensity of bodily sensations. We link pain and pleasure to the depth of our discussions and friendships, which is why we're drawn to personal, intimate topics that emerged as a result of soothing those painful experiences in the past. Some of us want to hear about someone's traumatic life story or delve into topics like infidelity because we can relate to them. As we inquire, we get to feel the pain and the pleasure that follows. That's what many call depth.
It's similar to why we watch movies – different people are drawn to different films because they touch on various pain points and allow us to soothe that pain with delightful chemicals. When we watch these movies with someone who shares similar pain and experiences the same soothing, we bond.
I believe that people who crave deep friendships are the people who can contain a lot of intensity in their bodies, and they enjoy the release of pleasure once they tap into that pain.
Now, here's the twist – I think that wanting depth isn't a bad thing, but demanding that people always be deep with you could be a form of sadism. How many personal development junkies you've met who're on a mission to create more "deeply feeling people" in this world? I met many. If you're struggling to find deep friendships, consider that your biology might be a factor. The biology of linking depth and genuine connection with high intensity, pain, and the pleasure that comes after it.
Finding friends as an adult is already challenging, especially in diverse cultures with varying values. There's merit in finding ways to relate to people without the intense, craving feelings and enjoying connections over seemingly superficial topics. It's okay to feel less intense sometimes, and it's perfectly fine to have friends who enjoy lighter conversations.
I think you might have known this, but I just wanted to remind you today, just in case you needed to read it or your friend who's struggling right now might need to hear it.