Monday, September 2, 2013

We Need Each Other: Kindness, Bonding and Barriers to Bonding

Our world can be cold and cruel, and as we increasingly reach out and touch our handheld devices, instead of one another, it is easy to become numb to our basic human need to connect and feel connected emotionally, physically and in real time, to ourselves and others. Dr. Bruce Perry, who specializes in the impact of childhood trauma on our ability to bond and form healthy relationships talks about "attachment," our capacity to form and maintain healthy emotional relationships. Dr Perry believes that at our core, human beings are relational creatures. In fact, he believes the very nature of humanity arises from relationships. Almost everything we learn about what it means to be a human being is learned in a relational context including: how we impact one another through our words, thoughts and actions, how we think and feel and how we express or communicate our thoughts and feelings, how to respond or behave in a given situation and how the world works, both in small details and bigger picture ways. It is both natural and healthy to form special bonds with other people, "attachment bonds." Dr Perry describes four unique properties of an attachment bond: 1. an enduring bond with a special person, 2. involves comfort, soothing and pleasure, 3. loss or threat of loss of the special person evokes intense distress and 4. there is security and safety in the context of this relationship. Most all human beings have the innate, genetic capacity to experience attachment relationships: relationships which develop and stand on a special connection or bond. When as infants we are treated with attentive, responsive and loving caregiving, our genetic potential for attachment and bonding is expressed. When we lack the attentive, responsive and loving caregiving we truly need, our ability to bond or attach can be adversely impacted. This impacts the ability of the child to mature emotionally and socially and develop the critical attachment bonds with self and other needed to be healthy, happy and successful navigating the larger world. Dr Price notes that by compartmentalizing our world, we've decreased the opportunities to have relationships. Initially, if we are socialized to expect bonding, attachment and relational connection, we will feel something very deep missing if we live in a non-relational compartmentalized world. The lack of development of our capacity to attach or bond creates a very deep emptiness inside, palpable in our hearts and guts. However, if we continue to live with this void going unfilled and with our needs for connection going unmet, we eventually numb out to ourselves and our needs and give up hope that our needs will ever be met. This numbing out creates a feral state of emotional and relational being, where we shy away from deep or warm emotional contact and bonding, and try to do it all alone. When we are in this feral state, even if someone approaches us with kindness, we feel more the intensity of the outreach than the valence of the emotional energy that accompanies the outreach. We learn to protect ourselves from the pain of not getting our needs met in the past by keeping up a wall to feel or experience our needs in the here and now. And this protection turns into a fortress that keeps danger out, by also prevents love and care to get in. While we can survive living in our individual fortresses, in time, the heart grows weary and lonely. We need each other. We are not meant to live lives of quiet desperation, each on our own exotic or simple path, independent of other people. When we have healthy and abundance attachment experiences early in life, we can welcome and embrace love, kindness and the bond that grows from both, later in life. If we have not had the safety, love, constancy or care to attach, we may run from true love and kindness, that way a a fly or an animal turns away from the light. We learn to live in a numb, compartmentalized, not entirely human world, where relationships and connection are at the bottom of the list. In this sense, to compartmentalize our lives means to emotionally, physically and spiritually starve. Our fundamental need for interconnection can not be met when we lives our lives of quiet desperation so quietly that no one really knows just how quiet and desperate things have become. When we are this isolated we die a small death every day, even if we think we are tough or strategic or better than others whose lives just don't measure up to our inner judge. We need to be able to soothe our defenses, and regain safety from love, kindness and bonding, so we get the core emotional, relational, physical and spiritual nutrients we need to learn, grow and survive. Loving touch, kind words, honest truth, and emotional constancy should be balms for the soul, not theoretical concepts. As the beautiful gospel song by Hezekiah Walker, "I Need You to Survive" says, "I need you. You need me." We need each other to survive, and surely to live and thrive.

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