What Comes After Connection?

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

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11 Responses to What Comes After Connection?

  1. Amanda says:

    This is such a wonderful post – as much of my therapy journey has involved relationships and connection. I am glad to hear on your side of the couch, the normalcy of the process … from the connection not being created during childhood (or having it disrupted) to bringing it into therapy. Being in a position to take the tools outside of therapy is lovely – knowing that I am close to being “back on track” is lovely too! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Sue says:

    Thank you for acknowledging that positive mutal connection precedes self-love. Self-love is usually described as something one makes for oneself, which is kind of hard, given the starting point. It’s hard to self-model something you’ve never experienced! I disagree on the value of using a therapist for this process, however, it’s not a real relationship, but more of an opportunity for some practice, like “fake it till you make it”.

    • We can agree to disagree, then. 🙂

      I would humbly offer that therapy is very much a “real” relationship, although one with very different rules than most. Real connection AND practice for outside of therapy both need to take place, in my opinion.

  3. Sun says:

    I was building that connection with my therapist. Then tired another type of brief therapy on me. Which made me feel like she was getting rid of me. Now I’m focusing on the negative so I can run. I wish I could go back to before the trigger but I don’t feel like I can

    • This is a crucial turning point in any in-depth therapy experience. Have you talked about your reaction: “Which made me feel like she was getting rid of me”? Doing so gives you the opportunity to work something through in the therapy context to further your healing. Running is likely to just keep you repeating old patterns. I know it is a risk, but the rewards are so great!

      Best wishes to you!

  4. Pencil says:

    The problem is that so many professionals miss complex ptsd completely.

  5. onesurvivor says:

    I believe that connections with others is very key to healing…connection with our Creator, with other people such as safe family and friends and with those who can counsel, love and guide.

  6. 1EsmeCat says:

    This post and the reponse comments you made above really helped me understand the therapeutic relationship in a way I very much needed. When I started therapy I didn’t know what my dissociation was, and I hid my symptoms and experiences very well without even realizing I was doing that. I didn’t understand that what had been happening to me was abuse, and I had no idea that trust was such an enormously difficult issue for me. But your writing was a real corner-turning experience for me in that somehow it helped me know that I could be okay in therapy, and that my therapist really is there for me. I guess that before, I was afraid it wasn’t a real relationship. Thank you.

  7. Andrew J. Schmutzer says:

    Thanks for the stimulating post. One of the things that we survivors struggle profoundly with is trust–this is understandable (as Sue implied). But some years on my journey now, I’m also learning how to let other people be ‘broken’ too. If I limit my healing to what I did have correctly modeled for me, that’s a close-ended view of the healing journey, minimizes my own agency, and ignores the pain that I’ve also caused others (survivors aren’t the easiest lot to be married to!). So I’m learning the empathy and mercy of granting all those potential let-down-ers the same kind of space, time, and empathy I need to heal. Facing one’s own traumatic story may also require us to deal with our in-grown perspectives. In fact, until we’ve faced our own relational problems, we will be turned off by the same problems in others–the ‘mirror effect.’

    A thought, from one survivor to others.

  8. Pingback: Treating Trauma and the Therapeutic Frame | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

  9. Pingback: Mindful Monday: Believe | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

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