We live our lives in two worlds. Our social world involves families, co-workers, and people we meet in everyday interactions. Our individual world is filled with thoughts, goals, and personal “battles.” Balancing these two worlds can be difficult but is essential for our emotional growth and development.

“People commonly struggle with how to develop healthy relationships with others while also nurturing their own development,” says Davy Guo, Psychologist and Community Relations Manager with ELG. “Overall well-being and emotional growth increases when people can understand and manage their needs for deeper connections and self-expression.”

Here are 4 ways to describe what people often experience when resolving social and individual needs.

The Conflict

The drive to connect with and be accepted by others is a strong human desire. It compels us to be sensitive and responsive to other people’s feelings. Equally strong is our desire for individual survival, prosperity, and self-expression. In addition to being industrious and competent, this desire can drive us to behave in calculated and selfish ways. These two desires seem to contradict each other. The former is often described as being weak, and the latter heartless. Human beings seem to be a blend of this dichotomy.

The Torment

Our two-sidedness can cause us to act in contradicting ways. On one hand, we need recognition and love from others. On the other, we desire self-sufficiency and personal development. Many people I have worked with are tormented by this conflict. They develop a plan but are rendered indecisive by their fear of failure and judgment. They appear resilient but wake up at night troubled by the past. They crave intimacy but push people away at the first sign of closeness.

This internal conflict holds people back from success and emotional well-being. Many say they feel like they have two personalities. One client recently talked to me about his efforts to suppress and even eliminate the part of him that needs attention and love. He believes it makes him too emotional and therefore hinders him from success. He is equally discontent with his analytical side and believes it prevents him from being happy. (Read on for my client’s positive breakthrough!)

The Union

This conflict is not dissociative identity (multiple personality disorder). It’s an inevitable part of the human experience. Our duality—the desire for social relationships, as well as self-expression, are two sides of the same coin, and are not in conflict with each other. We cannot simply strangle one and hope the other thrives. Pushing down either desire will only cause it to emerge in unexpected, and often negative, ways. Just like in any healthy relationship, the key to longevity is not for one partner to surrender to the other, but for both to accept their differences and learn to live in peace. 

In order for an individual to be psychologically healthy, the two sides of the dichotomy also need to work together with acceptance and compassion. As my client and I continued our discussions, we realized that his emotional side is more attuned to the feelings of others, which allows him to “read” people and potentially become more successful. His analytical side often makes good decisions, which helps him to develop better relationships and life goals.

The Leap of Faith

Recognizing our dual needs for social connections and self-expression is the easy part. Making the necessary changes is the true challenge. Especially for people with a conflicted sense of self. Self-acceptance may seem impossible or even scary.

Ask yourself, “What would it look like in your life to embrace your need for connection rather than fight it? What is the smallest step you can take now toward self-acceptance?” Whether it is giving voice to the part you’ve been suppressing or allowing yourself to see kindness and love—it’s about taking a leap of faith.