Start thriving through human connection.
As humans, we are programmed to seek and be fulfilled by connection. Whether through God, a higher power, or something bigger than ourselves, we desire deep connection within ourselves and with others. Our basic needs for survival are food, water, shelter, and sleep. As long as these needs are adequately met, we are motivated to do more than just survive. We are motivated to thrive.
One of our primary needs to thrive is human connection. We seek to love and be loved, to belong, to fit in, to feel through interaction that we matter to another human being. When we fail to meet that need for connection, we do not thrive. Most of us meet that need to some level, and therefore have different degrees of thriving or well-being.
The greater the gap between our desired connection and our experienced connection, the greater our loneliness. Simply defined, loneliness is “the failure to adequately meet the need for connection”. Loneliness is one of the most painful human experiences.
Ironically, the reason we often fail to meet our need for connection, and therefore experience loneliness, is because we over-protect ourselves. We over-protect ourselves by not letting people in, and even by even blatantly pushing them away. While this over-protection avoids hurtful experiences we could have in relationships, it sets us up for the most painful experience of all: loneliness.
Granted, some people would be better off alone than interacting with the toxic people currently in their lives. If our relationships include shame, blame, ridicule, abuse or neglect, we may thrive more by only hanging out with God and the Dog. However, the shame-based and negative things we start to believe about ourselves in the absence of loving feedback from intimate others, and the things we end up doing to numb pain of loneliness, are among the primary sources of mental health problems. Addictive behaviors and substances are at the forefront of such problems. We use addictions to numb out pain from past or current hurts, to wall off and protect from future hurts, and to “fill the voids” created in our state of loneliness.
To the contrary, healthy relationships are a source of not only the love and connection we deeply desire, but also of accountability and support. This accountability and support can make all the difference when trying to make difficult changes such as recovering from an addiction or stopping other destructive behaviors.
This is in large part why 12-step programs are so helpful to so many.
In addition to the focus on spirituality and surrender, these are programs of relationship, of human connection. However, recovery relationships fail to meet our deepest needs for connection when used as more comfortable sources of human interaction while avoiding the healing work needed with loved ones who may be struggling with hurt, anger, and mistrust. Among the most critical relationship skills and wills are apology and forgiveness. Not quick apology or cheap forgiveness, but hard work over time that involves dealing with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors necessary to bring about true healing.
The ability to maintain healthy connections with others, which inevitably includes being willing and able to apologize and/or forgive, is our greatest means to attaining and maintaining mental health.
By Brian T. Case, PhD, LMFT, S-PSB
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
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