Love and connection. We all have different ideas of what that is and what it looks like. How we receive love is different for each person. However, one thing we all have in common, is the need for human connection.

Jim Coen did a study with couples who were hooked up to an FMRIs while one partner received shocks. He noted that in the groups where the partners were allowed to hold hands during the shocks, the trauma response stopped. Literally, stopped!!! Let me repeat that. Being able to physically hold the partners hands was able to STOP the fight-flight-freeze response. This is baffling information, as a counselor. Why isn’t this more talked about? Why do we not learn about this in school? Is there a reason, when we talk about relationships in counseling is it only focused on codependency?

Disclaimer: Any post about mental health or wellness should not be viewed as an alternative to therapy or seeking help. This is purely to spread awareness, provide some tips and information, and build a supporting community. If you feel that counseling would be helpful for you do a quick google search, check out psychology today, or call the number on the back of your insurance card. If you do not have insurance 211 is a great service and may be able to help provide some resources. 

The benefits of human connection

As a race, humans are nothing, if not social. Furthermore, we are homo vinculum – the one who bonds. It could be argued that our bonds and connections are the greatest survival skills that we have.

Jim Coen did a study with couples who were hooked up to an FMRIs while one partner received shocks. He noted that in the groups where the partners were allowed to hold hands during the shocks, the trauma response stopped. Literally, stopped!!!

Let me repeat that. Being able to physically hold the partners hands was able to STOP the fight-flight-freeze response. This is baffling information, as a counselor. Why isn’t this more talked about? Why do we not learn about this in school? Is there a reason, when we talk about relationships in counseling is it only focused on codependency?

Furthermore, there are some studies that show that distressing relationships and lack of human connection can actually be worse than smoking cigarettes. It’s amazing what the power of love and connection can do.

In fact our need for love and connection, and whether or not we receive the support we long for, can shape the way our brain develops and how able we are to cope with negative emotions, and handle stress. We can become the best versions of ourselves through our ability to connect meaningfully with others. Sounds crazy, yeah?

What is connection. Safety – feeling physically and emotionally safe in a relationship. Feeling safe enough to ask for and offer comfort or support.
Shared vulnerability and emotional experiences – sharing your greatest fears, talking about painful situations, being able to open yourself up to someone in a way maybe you never have.
Accessibility – this is not a person who comes in and out of your life whenever they want. Barring natural situations (such as being stuck in traffic, being at work, not good timing) this person is there for you through thick and thin. You can rely on this person to be there when needed.
Responsiveness – receiving comfort and reassurance from relationships. This can easy tension and anxiety (and calm the nervous system) and bring you back to a sort of base line, emotionally.

What does she mean about connection?

  1. Safety – feeling physically and emotionally safe in a relationship. Feeling safe enough to ask for and offer comfort or support.
  2. Shared vulnerability and emotional experiences – sharing your greatest fears, talking about painful situations, being able to open yourself up to someone in a way maybe you never have.
  3. Accessibility – this is not a person who comes in and out of your life whenever they want. Barring natural situations (such as being stuck in traffic, being at work, not good timing) this person is there for you through thick and thin. You can rely on this person to be there when needed.
  4. Responsiveness – receiving comfort and reassurance from relationships. This can easy tension and anxiety (and calm the nervous system) and bring you back to a sort of base line, emotionally.

The above list is some of the ways you can connect with people on a deeper emotional level. Of course there are other ways to connect with people, such as shared interests, inside jokes, date nights, sex, etc. All of these things can lead to a felt sense of love.

Of course, it may not emotionally or physically be safe to engage in some of these things in cases of domestic violence, severe mental illness, substance abuse or process addiction. Infidelity. There are reasons your gut is telling you not to trust in some of these cases. Consult a couples counselor if you have doubts about the emotional or physical safety in your relationship OR if your traumatic past has lead to some road blocks in your relationship.

Codependency is such an over-used term. Sometimes it’s our go-to, when that is not really necessary. Not to say that codependency is not real, because it is. But relying on other people at an emotional level does not = codependency.Being able to trust and rely on another person gives us a sense of security. THIS IS NORMAL It is not wrong to seek comfort and support. Though, there is a such thing as becoming consumed by a relationship and losing yourself in an unhealthy way. This is when codependency is a concern. I think as a society we are taught to be independent, get ahead, push emotions aside and be “strong”. Take social distancing. This whole thing going on right now is a big deal. When I was at the grocery story the other day I found myself tearing up a bit. It’s so weird to be in public and see everyone in masks and gloves. There is a level of anxiety in which people are scared to step too close to one another, either for fear of catching/spreading germs, but also not wanting to upset another person by getting too close. This is a big deal. And we are taught to take everything in stride and not have emotions about this sort of thing. Independence is becoming so valued that the view of what is or is not a health relationship has become skewed.

But what about codependency?

Codependency is such an over-used term. Sometimes it’s our go-to, when that is not really necessary. Not to say that codependency is not real, because it is. But relying on other people at an emotional level does not = codependency.

Being able to trust and rely on another person gives us a sense of security. THIS IS NORMAL It is not wrong to seek comfort and support. Though, there is a such thing as becoming consumed by a relationship and losing yourself in an unhealthy way. This is when codependency is a concern. I think as a society we are taught to be independent, get ahead, push emotions aside and be “strong”.

Take social distancing. This whole thing going on right now is a big deal. When I was at the grocery story the other day I found myself tearing up a bit. It’s so weird to be in public and see everyone in masks and gloves. There is a level of anxiety in which people are scared to step too close to one another, either for fear of catching/spreading germs, but also not wanting to upset another person by getting too close.

This is a big deal. And we are taught to take everything in stride and not have emotions about this sort of thing. Independence is becoming so valued that the view of what is or is not a health relationship has become skewed.

Where do we go from here?

Reading some self-help books could be beneficial. Go to counseling. Journal about what stops you from opening up in your relationships. Is this something deep rooted, maybe from child hood, trauma, or past relationship injuries. Do you not feel safe enough because of your current relationship? Or has our society played some sort of role in your view of what you should or shouldn’t talk about, feel, etc?

Developing some self-awareness is super important. Otherwise what will ever change?

Boundaries are also important. Having healthy and strong boundaries is your way of saying “Hey, I matter, i’m important, and I want to take care of myself and my relationships” Sometimes a lack of boundaries can lead a relationship to feel unsafe. On the flip side, respecting other people’s boundaries is also important. Balancing the two can be confusing. Let me know in comments if you would be interested on some info about boundaries and how to balance that. I’d also be curious if anyone would be interested in a relationship series on love and connection.

Some of the theories discussed in this blog post is from the book Attachment Theory in Practice by Susan M. Johnson

Check out my blog post on reconnecting friendships by changing your thought process.

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