The Healing Power of Connection


As a child matures, they claim some ability to regulate their own emotions. A spike of anxiety can drop after a self-generated reassuring thought. Annoyance or anger can be staved off with the pursuit of a distraction...think of something else, watch TV, read a book, pet the dog…change focus. This is how we maintain homeostasis in the body.

But we maintain our connection to others. Even with the best parenting experiences, as adults, we still need others for stability. This realization can be disconcerting for those living in a society that prizes individuality and independence. Fantasies of obtaining complete self-sufficiency are quickly shattered by the protest of our emotional brain, which needs connection. In order to stay balanced, we need to find people who regulate us (help us feel calm and connected) and stay near them (Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2001).

A safe place for Jane

In my article, The Inner Working Model: A Story of Two Babies, I wrote about Jane, a hypothetical child raised in a neglectful and abusive home. Jane has never had the stability of a healthy relationship. Her need for love, connection, and reassurance has never been properly met. As a result, Jane believes she is not worthy of love and the world is essentially a hostile and cold place. She also has a hypervigilant nervous system and has great difficulty coping with stress and managing her emotions. When Jane get upset she plummets into a downward emotional spiral and it is very difficult for her to feel okay again.

Jane needs guidance and a safe connection where she can help herself learn to cope with her emotions and calm her own nervous system. This, unfortunately, is not something Jane can learn out of a book or by watching a documentary.


In terms of neuroscience, what Jane really needs is something she did not have growing up. She needs “a limbic connection that can steady her when she is tumbling out of control.”  

How therapy can help

Often, a client leaves a therapy session feeling calmer, stronger, and more capable of facing the world. An inner strength and feeling of support is gained in therapy. But why? Nothing profoundly insightful was said, the secret to life and happiness was not revealed  (Lewis et al., 2001).

We heal from our connections with others. Even for a non-therapist, this is probably not difficult to understand. But many people may shy away from the idea of therapy. Especially if a picture of a cold Freudian-like therapist sitting beside a couch and taking judgemental notes comes to mind…

The emotional brain is designed to balance itself through the harmonizing activity of those around us. The first thing we do when we are hurting is to reach out and connect. Just take a look at personal accounts of natural or man-made disasters. When disaster strikes and lives are lost, there are always reports of how people came together, and strangers offered and received acts of kindness. Eye contact, kind words, connection all occur in situations when we are frightened.

When we experience a crisis, either personally, in our community, or globally, we reach out to others, through friends, family, places of worship, and today, the internet.

There are many around you available to help

Therapists are trained and available to offer the support you need. If you try therapy and you didn't feel a connection, find another therapist. Today we even have online therapy if you prefer the comfort of your own home, difficulty traveling or on the other side of the world needing support.

Author’s note:

Many of these ideas came from the book A general theory of love, written by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon. A highly recommended read for anyone wanting to understand the science behind human emotions, and the power of connection.

 

References
Lewis, T., Amini, F., & Lannon, R. (2001). A general theory of love. Vintage.

 

 

 

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