A model for social freedom

Social Connection model or “What am I unwilling to feel socially?”

Connection-Benefits us and others (we all want connection)

  • Connection (with ourselves and others)requires contacting the direct felt sense of what we experience in our bodies and making friends with it.  
  • Our bodies move towards pleasant sensations and away from unpleasant sensations
  • Our fears around connection are really fears of being with the unpleasant sensations that arise in social situations
  • We avoid these sensations by thinking or moving away physically (avoidance), or by numbing (internet,drugs, food, sex)
  • It’s important to become aware of whatever we do socially that has the purpose of reducing difficult sensations
  • Avoidance creates beliefs that keep us from feeling
  • To let go of beliefs and belong socially we must feel sensations and emotions, and make friends with them;get curious about them
  • Curiosity and kindness take us out of unskillful social habit loops
  • Vulnerability is the key to connection.  To be vulnerable we must be willing to befriend sensations and step out of habit loops of thinking, numbing, and avoiding vulnerability
  • Others emotions are not our fault or responsibility; It’s more important to be interested than interesting

Connection Habit Loops (Jud Brewer’s model of reward based learning)

-The reward tells us to remember what we ate and where to find it.


Trigger → Behavior→ Reward

Hunger → seek food → feel good

Trigger→ Behavior → Reward

Feel anxious after making a request socially → say “Oh I don’t really need that” →  feel less anxious

Have the thought “she doesn’t like me” and feel sad →avoid and numb with food → feel less sad

Feel sad while talking→ obsess afterwards over reason for sadness (distract) →  feel less sad

Fear of state of the world triggered in conversation → spout of negative beliefs to avoid feeling→ feel less fear

See someone I’m attracted to and feel fear and sadness → avoid and pretend I don’t see them→ fear and sadness lower and I feel better

Trigger→ Behavior→ Reward→ (updated reward by paying attention)

Feel sexual tension and desire for someone→ Rush over and talk to them from non mindful place of craving→ feel better having released some tension → (but ultimately feel sad with regret)

Urge to say something because thought popped into my head→ blurt it out → feel better; tension released → (feel crappy moving away from values; feel more anxiety;more need to say; other person feels unseen)

Freedom from social habit loops:

  1. Recognize these habit loops   2. “What am I getting from this?” Start to build disenchantment with unhelpful habits/update reward values 3. Step out of habit loops; change our behaviors with RAIN (mindfulness and compassion)

How the social brain works (cause and effect goes both ways)

Anxious body sensations ←→   anxious thoughts 

Sad body sensations ←→  sad thoughts

Angry body sensations ← →  angry thoughts

*If not mindful we may relate to others with how we feel and think; blaming others for sensations

If mindful, we can feel internal feelings (anger, sadness, fear) and not create a story about (external) person in front of us  

RAIN (before/during/after interaction)

(Aware and Pause)


Recognize-”What am I feeling in my body right now?” body sensations, emotions(especially fear, anger, sadness),thoughts, beliefs (what emotion or feeling do I not want to feel?; beliefs as invitations to investigate somatically) 

Accept/Allow – (leads to welcoming and befriending over time)

Investigate-get curious about sensations and emotions.  Develop the courage to be with and befriend.  Curiosity and interest.  

Nurture- What do I need right now?  Offer compassion and care

 RAIN (for others):

Recognize- notice emotions, thoughts, body language in the other person.  What’s it like being you?

Accept/Allow- allow them to feel what they feel, and to think what they think

Investigate- get curious about them

Nurture-What do they need?  Offer care (May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be peaceful; you matter; you’re real)


Speak the truth:

Watch need to do, need to say, need to know-deprivation curiosity vs. interest curiosity

Ground in the body-feel emotions present

Pause-Discern what to say

Listen Deeply:


Ground in body- feel emotions present

Open to the other person who is speaking

4 Trainings

*there is no how to/no information in this model- Confidence only comes from courage of lived experience.  Learn to trust oneself first.

Mindfulness, Compassion, Intentional Action (Value Based Exposure), Vulnerability

  1. Mindfulness (internal, external)
  • Internal
    • Formal (Goal:just sit)
      • 4 postures/body scan/breath (enjoy meditation by savoring pleasant)
      • Senses,Body sensations,Emotions(as anchors), thinking/beliefs (events of the mind)
      • RAIN
      • Train concentration → befriend experience
    • Informal (social)
      • RAIN
      • Grounding in feet (before, during, after)
      • Whole body (before, during, after)
      • Emotion
      • posture/body language
      • RELAX
    • Internal: for safety
      • Ground in extremities
      • Touch points
      • Breath (five finger breathing/yoga breathing)
  • External (OPEN: to the other)
    • Eye contact
    • Tone of voice
    • Emotions
    • Other person’s body
    • PAUSE (before, during, after- speaking and listening)
  1. Compassion
    1. Formal
      1. Self compassion 
        1. Establish safety (compassion as resource anchor/antidote to fear and difficult emotions)
        2. Offer friendliness and care
          1. Benefactor, soothing touch, phrases, images, places, caring moments
          2. Feel into sensations in body →  hold difficult with care
      2. Opening to others
        1. Loving kindness/metta meditation
    2. Social (informal)
      1. For self
        1. Nurture (what do I need right now?), 
        2. Informal RAIN
          1. simple nurture phrases for before, during, after interaction
      2. For others(during interaction)
        1. Move from empathy to compassion w/ phrases
          1. For burnout- as antidote to feeling blame or responsible for others emotions; let them feel and offer care; care feels good; 
  2. Intentional Action (Value based exposure)
    1. What are my intentions?
      1. Check in.. What do I want? What do I want to say? Am I aligned with my values right now?
    2. Take action while simultaneously feeling difficult sensations 
      1. RAIN
    3. Intentions in mind/ values in mind
      1. authenticity/vulnerability/freedom
      2. Kindness (vs. disinterest)
      3. Courage (vs feeling good)
      4. Embodiment w/ mindfulness (vs. lost in thoughts and stories)
      5. Good fit vs. should
      6. connection/belonging (vs. performance and approval seeking) -belong to oneself first
    4. Reminders to aid in action 
      1. I’m going to die
      2. Your going to die
      3. We have just these precious moments together
      4. Sickness, death, and aging are part of life
      5. “Nirvana implies that in the absence of our default reactions we find ourselves facing moral dilemmas that require us to risk a response that might make things worse” Batchelor- “After Buddhism” pg. 241
      6. What will I risk before illness, aging, death?
      7. What’s precious enough to risk moving towards knowing illness, aging, and death are inevitable?
  3. Vulnerability- the birthplace of connection (opposite of performance and how/should/right/wrong)
    1. What gets in the way?
      1. Unpleasant sensations
      2. Shame
      3. Difficult emotions (fear, anger, sadness)
      4. Beliefs
        1. About self- my worthiness, my wants and needs
        2. About others-what they want; don’t want
        3. About connection- asking for help; interest; burden
        4. About emotions- somethings wrong with how we feel
      5. Performing (should, right/wrong)
      6. Pain
      7. Craving
    2. ATTUNE to emergence
      1. Hold space (no agenda; let go of control; impermanence of thoughts and feelings)
      2. Connect in the space; feel sensations that get in the way
    3. Vulnerability: Feel and Reveal (mindfulness and compassion)
      1. Story (mindful of our story)
        1. Share story with others who have earned our trust
      2. Physical
        1. Body language, touch
      3. Emotional
        1. Feel emotions
        2. Bring emotions to relational field by
          1. Being aware of them as we interact
          2. Speaking them to others as we feel into them

Social connection- some thoughts

  1. All our social fears are ways to avoid the emotions and sensations that come up socially or what our minds anticipate will be triggered socially.  Freedom is befriending the sensations so that we can be present for others.  
  2. Mindfulness means these sensations don’t have to mean something about our worthiness.  Sadness can be just sadness. 
  3. When there is a gap between our deepest longings for authentic connection and how we actually act in the world, we experience suffering.
  4. Often the advice to close this gap is to just go out into the world and expose ourselves to the situations we fear.  The problem is we can do these exposures to the situations while avoiding the body sensations at the root of our social fears.  
  5. Beliefs are really just habit loops that are so ingrained that challenging them causes so many unpleasant sensations in the body that it’s easier to just stay in the mind.  When we avoid feeling difficult emotions or sensations, our avoidance turns into ingrained beliefs.  The belief “No one likes me” is convenient because it keeps us from actually testing the belief out.  In order to test the belief out we would probably need to feel the fear of actually taking the risk and talking to someone.
  6. Freedom is letting the other person experience their own emotions and then befriending what comes up in us as a result of their emotions
  7. Helpful beliefs:  I can handle this; We all want to connect; My needs matter.  Your needs matter; We cant truly know what another person is thinking; People change and they change their minds; Their moods change and their thoughts change with their moods

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