I really value those of you who take the time to comment. You often help me refine my thinking and inspire topics for future posts. A commenter to my article Overcoming Shame through Connection did just that by saying the following:
The observation that connection disarms shame is astute and very useful. The dark irony that people suffering from depression are least well able to pursue the “connection cure” on their own might suggest that the therapeutic relationship is a critical foundation to build on for these patients? The counselor can perhaps offer sufficient re-assurance to give the patient enough strength to seek out other support, breaking down the vicious cycle of depression -> isolation -> shame -> depression.
One pitfall I have experienced that arises from relying solely on interconnections to mitigate shame is that it leaves my happiness dependent on the vicissitudes of other people’s moods. Relying on the ability to connect with others to produce the feeling of belonging is not always a reliable antidote to the experience of shame, since other people have their own problems and even close friends won’t always be available to interact.
I have stressed the importance of connection and written about the challenges to connecting created by trauma. I want to go deeper here and say more about why I see connection as so important and how exactly I see it as helping. I also agree that if one’s sense of well-being stems only from the status of relationships with others it is vulnerable to constant fluctuation. This is one reason therapy can serve a purpose different from other important relationships. I see the therapy relationship as transformative.
For many who have experienced early abuse and/or neglect, the therapy relationship may be the first place that feels safe enough to explore connection. The goal however is not to just stop there. The hope is that clients can take what they learn in therapy and apply this to other situations and relationships. The how of this depends on many things, including the therapist’s theoretical orientation.
I believe that we develop many things in the context of a “good enough” attachment to a consistent and caring other: frustration tolerance, the ability to self-soothe, trust in the world, and love of ourselves. I believe that this positive, mutual connection (for we need to value and feel valued by another) is what predates our ability to love ourselves.
Ideally this process happens in early childhood. When it does not, or these capacities get disrupted by later events, problems in adulthood abound. This then becomes the work of therapy: connecting in the service of developing and internalizing these capacities.
At first a client may only be able to experience things like self-soothing while in the therapist’s presence or shortly after a session. Over time this can become something you feel like you own and carry with you. You take what you learn and experience in therapy and use it to create a new self or to reconnect to a self that was lost. This is how the therapy relationship transforms.
We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit. -e. e. cummings