Our lives seem to be getting busier and busier. When such busyness limits or interferes with our ability to make connections with others, we end up feeling emotionally depleted and unhealthy. Connection is a primary need. In the same way that we need nutrition and sleep to be healthy, connection with others fuels us emotionally.
I've often asked my patients, “When do you feel happy and/or fulfilled?” And the usual response is, when they are sharing time with others. Mathew Kelly, the author of The Rhythm of Life, says, “There is a great satisfaction when sharing time with people we enjoy. The problem is that our everyday lives distract us from our deepest desires." What this translates into is that people then feel constantly alone, empty and tired.
My first job after graduate school was at a mental health agency, which required me to create quarterly treatment plans with specific goals— as measures of progress. A common goal aimed at decreasing depression and anxiety was: the patient will participate in a social and interactive activity once or twice every week. What did this mean? We encouraged patients to connect with others in a ‘social’ (not work), ‘interactive’ activity such as: Being part of a book club, participating in community activities, group sports activities, taking up partner-dancing classes, seeking a “meet up” interactive activity of choice…. I think you get the idea. Those who complied, demonstrated reduced psychological struggles over time.
In the movie Castaway, Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), while stranded alone on an island, creates an assumed connection with Wilson (a volleyball). This was his sole connection during his tumultuous journey; through conversations and arguments with Wilson, he was able to endure and survive. The lesson to be learned is that connections, through the ups and downs of life, help us feel emotionally balanced.
“Whom you share time with, and most of all choose to open up to, is of paramount importance”—Matthew Kelly
Some people will add joy to one’s life while others may cause emotional stress. Psychiatrist/psychoanalyst Jean Baker Miller devised the term "Growth Fostering Relationships," to emphasize the need for mutually empathic relationships. She asserts that the attributes of a Growth Fostering Relationship are zest, a sense of worth, clarity, productivity and a desire for connection. Connections are a central human need; whereas, disconnection and isolation are the source of psychological problems. Some of us may have life partners, family, friends and many acquaintances; yet, have a handful of close confidants.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfections, psychotherapist and researcher Brené Brown writes, “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this question before we share: ‘Who has earned the right to hear my story?’ If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, a small group of friends, or a family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”
Time to connect and time for space
In the late 1970’s, the book The Friendship Factor made it to the bestseller
list. One of the chapters in this book is titled “Neglect this and watch your friends flee”. Can you guess what ‘this’ is? Too much connection, feeling suffocated, controlled, dominated, not having room…. I think you get the point. Sometimes this behavior is learned intimacy, sometimes unconsciously and/or sometimes resulting from personal insecurities. Creating healthy space is also important. According to Alan Loy McGinnis, the author of, The Friendship Factor, the best friendships and best marriages make room for their relationship to breathe.
Years ago, I read the best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R Covey and the central point seemed to be "interdependence"— the right degree of dependence and independence. Combining one’s energy with the energy of others allows us to achieve greater effectiveness, not only in our endeavors, but also in our emotional states. We need time together and time apart.
We enter life via a human connection and crave connection throughout life. When the right degree and timing of this need is met— we become the best version of ourselves.
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden.
Covey, S. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Kelly, M. (2004). The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose. United States: Simon and Schuster.
Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, "The Development of Relational-Cultural Theory." Last modified 2013. http://www.jbmti.org/About-us-Extra-Info/what-are-the-five-good-things
Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, "Glossary of Relational-Cultural Theory Key Terms." Last modified 2013. Accessed March 23, 2013. http://www.jbmti.org/Our-Work/glossary-relational-cultural-therapy.
McCauley, M. (2013). Relational-Cultural Theory: Fostering Healthy Coexistence Through a Relational Lens. http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/relational-cultural-theory
Miller, J.B. Toward a New Psychology of Women. Boston: Beacon Press, 1976.