“I’m sitting here with my coffee; the fireplace is on and a candle is lit. Every now and then, Skye comes over to me and just sits by my side, waiting for a pat and some love. I stop writing, pat her, and just stare into her eyes. She’s so beautiful. What a soft and loving soul. She expresses so much without ever saying a word. You just know what she wants and how she’s feeling just by looking deeply into her eyes. Wouldn’t it be great if humans were the same? Totally honest and in the present moment. Not thinking about the past or worried about the future, just fully relaxed, comfortable and present.”
The above is an excerpt from a recent entry from my journal. While I don’t normally share my journal entries, this one had a profound impact on me as it reminded me of how important it is, especially now, to hold our gaze.
Maintaining eye contact with someone has always been an important part of our communication process, but it’s also an integral part of our emotional connection process. Since most of us have been isolating this past year, our relationships with others has changed. Many of us are conducting our work, meetings and even social gatherings virtually, and while this has been a great way to stay connected, it has also changed the type of connection we have. If you’ve been on Zoom or any other virtual platform lately (and who hasn’t!), I’m sure you’ve noticed just how difficult it is to actually look into the other person’s eyes. It’s a lot harder to focus on someone through a screen so while we are looking at others, the level of connection is much less than if we were in person.
This same is true even when out in public. Now with wearing masks, only our eyes are visible. While we can still see one another, making out facial expressions is almost non-existent. Do you maintain eye contact with the grocery clerk or even a passerby on the street? For most of us, we don’t. Rather, it’s a very short, casual connection.
So why is this even important? Turns out, that gazing into another person’s eyes can have a profound impact on your emotions and the emotional connection with others.
A 2013 study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found 4 main reasons for the importance of holding someone’s gaze.
4 Main Reasons for the Importance of Holding Your Gaze
- Helps you Recognize Emotions – Your eyes are a powerful representation of your emotions. Several studies have found that humans determine how others are feeling by analyzing their eyes. Eye gazing also creates an opportunity for emotional connection. In another study, researchers found that direct gazing increased activity in the amygdala, a part of your brain involved in processing facial cues and people’s emotions.
- Increased Intimacy – Although the research in this area is old, there is strong evidence that long eye contact can increase intimacy. In one study, strangers who looked into each other’s eyes for just 2 minutes expressed mutual feelings of love. And, another study found that the longer someone stared at a face, the more they became attached to it.
- Builds Trust – Many people consider eye contact to be a sign of trustworthiness. Likewise, not looking at someone in the eye is often associated with lying. If you want to build trust with another person, try eye gazing. In a study conducted in 2016, researchers found people are more likely to believe a person who’s looking straight at them. This may be enhanced by continuously making eye contact.
- Increases Connection – Since eye gazing facilitates emotional bonding, it may also nurture a deeper connection. A 2017 study on several university students determined that direct gazing is associated with what’s known as self-other merging. This means it reduces the boundaries between “self” and “other”, creating a feeling of “oneness” and connection.
It’s no wonder that we are all feeling a little lonely and isolated. Not only is the physical distancing we’ve been asked to do this past year having an impact but turns out, we have lost the deep connection we had simply by gazing into other people’s eyes.
As we continue with the pandemic, we must try to re-focus our attention and our gaze on the the things that fall within our control if we are to remain positive, energized and connected. One way to do this is to try holding the gaze of those you come in contact with, whether that be someone you live with, a brief encounter with a store clerk, your dog, or even yourself. Notice what happens when you do and what shifts, if any, occur in your mood.