Human beings are wired for connection. Again and again, research shows that the more quality relationships you have in your life, the more you are safeguarded against mental health issues like depression, stress, low self esteem, and anxiety. Connection also improves physical health, positively impacting issues such as weight and blood pressure. This study in The Atlantic even suggests that the bigger your social group the bigger your brain size. Although research is always a wonderful validation , therapists don’t need it to know what they see everyday: healthy relationships with friends, family, coworkers, romantic partners, and even strangers is integral to emotional health.
Every week, I support people in addressing many challenging issues in their lives. And, while they all present differently, I have never seen an issue that was not relational. Many issues spring forth from a relationship issue – marital strife, the death of a loved one, feeling excluded from your friends, porous boundaries with family members, butting heads with coworkers, being bullied. Others can appear without a relational cause (symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, for one), yet they end up having a major relational impact. And it is usually the relationship impact that my clients are most concerned.
And, while social connection is of the utmost importance, almost all of us struggle in one way or another at doing it in a beneficial and healthy way. At times we are too permissive or aggressive, we keep people out or we let too many people in, we are reactive rather than responsive. We struggle to speak and share or we take up too much space and overshare.. We forget to laugh at ourselves or we allow too many people to laugh at us. We don’t take responsibility for our part. Or, we take too much responsibility for our part. We forget to empathize and to listen or we live with way too much gray area without ever taking a stand. Phew. As you can see, connection is a delicate balancing act that is truly an art form. And while we can appreciate that other forms of art might only be perfected by some (I will never be a talented musician like my husband, and that is okay), this is the one that all people should have an opportunity to excel at.
After supporting many people in developing the skills they need to connect with others, I have found that anyone can do it because it is in our wiring. We just need to make sure the wires are hooked up correctly.
This series of posts will address the ways in which we can better connect with others by providing direct suggestions as to how to create balance in the many different areas of connection and by providing suggestions for further reading. I will discuss the importance of vulnerability, mindfulness, responsiveness, empathy, clarity, laughing, responsibility, gentleness, and boundaries in creating the types of relationships that you’ve been yearning for.
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Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a Philadelphia based therapist. Elizabeth is passionate about supporting people in improving their relationships and creating fulfilling connection with others. Elizabeth works with couples and individuals to address challenging events such as infidelity, divorce, trauma, the death of a loved one, or major transitions.