All humans need connection with other humans. In fact, our very existence depends on it. Of course, we know that human infants cannot care for themselves, but from the very beginning, our need for connection and interaction goes much deeper than the need for food, clothing, and shelter. John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, tells us that an infant’s need for parents is much more than satisfying basic needs for feeding and protection. In fact, the quality of this first relationship will form a “working model”, a template for all future relationships. Through early interactions with caregivers, the infant will develop brain circuitry from which he will come to view the world, relationships and even himself. Early child development studies of infants in orphanages found that even when given proper nutrition children who were not held or talked to had stunted physical and psychological growth. Modern researchers such as Allan Schore connect the quality of early attachment with the actual structure and function of the brain and nervous system.
But human connection remains an important need throughout life. Longevity studies show that people having a strong social support group live longer healthier lives. Recovery from PTSD, Depression, Addictions, and other mental illness also show improved outcomes with social support. Studies on happiness and life satisfaction again support the need for connection with others.
Early experiences with attachment to others’ shape are interactions going forward. So for some, while attachment remains a need, it may have also become a source of discomfort. When attachment experiences have been perceived as hurtful or unavailable we are left to develop survival strategies to help deal with the lack of connection to others. For some, this may look like overeating, over drinking or drugging or overworking. For others, it may look like being so self-reliant that others are not needed, or wanted. What remains true is that the attachment need is still there, just buried with strategies that may work for a time but ultimately let us down.
When strategies stop working our emotions signal us that something is wrong. Feelings of fatigue, loneliness, dissatisfaction, overwhelm, depression, anxiety and more are there to tell us that something is wrong. Something needs to be attended to. Help needs to start with connection. A reaching out, connecting to someone who can help or lead the way to help is a critical step in recovery.
While connection is not the whole answer to every issue, it is always an important ingredient and a good place to start. Connection remains a core need throughout our lives. Ask yourself, who am I connected to? Do I have support people? Who do I trust? If those questions are difficult or you have no one, start with a support group or a professional that can help you sort things out. There is too much information about the importance of connection to ignore this vital part of our lives. Reach out today.