Will I be uncomfortable?
So I spent a recent Sunday morning teaching yoga to my sister-in-law and some of her neighbors. And it made me think about Alfred Adler, as I often do, since I use many of his ideas in therapy. My sister in law uses an app called NextDoor and she used it to invite basically her entire community to come on over. Turns out there were a lot of people interested in front yard yoga and it sparked conversation about how to bring people together and what can be accomplished when neighbors know one another and spend time together. It's what Adler called "Gemeinschaftsgefuhl" which is German for "community feeling" or "social interest."
His idea was that people are social animals. No matter whether you identify as introvert or extravert, we all need each other to survive. For instance, you gotta go to the grocery store to get food, and there are people at the grocery store you must navigate around and negotiate with in order to get your food. You have to deal with a bank and/or an employer to get the money you need to pay for your food. You have to manage a relationship with the electric and water providers to keep utilities on at your house. We've designed our societies in a decidedly social way. Do you agree? And it turns out that feeling like you have membership in a community is incredibly important to mental health.
If that person at the grocery store is in a bad mood or is rude, it stings a bit right? If our employer is unhappy with our work, we are troubled. We have an innate drive to get along with others, and to contribute in a positive way to our communities.
The tricky part is that it takes courage to be part of a community, doesn't it? I can speak for myself and say that I haven't been to a neighborhood association meeting in like 10 years, seriously. And I feel bad about that because I know it would be a great opportunity to meet neighbors and learn about what's going on around me. But what's stopped me from going? Well lack of time, is always the go-to answer, and it's true, I have been incredibly busy having babies and getting a new degree and developing a career, yes.
But really, there's an emotional barrier as well. There's a little voice in the back of my head telling me it could be a bad experience. Here are some things that cross my mind:
Will I be uncomfortable?
Will I feel like an outsider?
What will people think of me?
Will I have anything to say?
Will it be easy to make an exit when I need to go?
See, this idea about courage if Adler's too. He used the terms "encouraged" and "discouraged" to describe adjustment and mental health. Instead of labeling someone as depressed, he would say they were discouraged about their ability to find joy in life the way they once did. If someone had chronic anxiety, he may think of them as being discouraged about meeting new challenges successfully. It's no accident that encouragement has the word "courage" in it. When we are encouraged, we are able to persevere through fear. One of my favorite quotes about courage is from a book called "At Home in the Muddy Water" by Ezra Bayda:
"...we can find our edge, that place where we are closed down in fear, and allow ourselves to experience it. This takes courage, but courage isn't about becoming fearless. Courage is the willingness to experience our fears."
Do you agree that it takes courage to face the world out there? And IS this community connection vital to health and well-being?
Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez, Counselor and yoga teacher specializing in mental health, substance abuse and wellness.