The Power of ConnectionBusy_people

Some people pride themselves in the fact that they are independent but we all have a very basic human need to depend on each other, to a certain degree.  Don’t get me wrong, dependency, when unbalanced, is not healthy.  Beginning with infancy, dependency is vital to our ability to feel secure and thrive.  Through relationships with others, we feel loved and a sense of belonging.  In connection, we share rich life experiences, milestones, joy and celebrations.  We also have a need for connection through support when we inevitably will face stress, fear, loss, challenging growth, difficult decisions and disappointments.  Some might think expressing this need makes them weak-do you?  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places love and belonging only above food, water and physical safety (McLaud, S. A., 2007)

At times, I enjoy watching people and how they interact with each other. (Living in a tourist community creates many entertaining opportunities for this pastime).  Recently, I noticed a strange pattern, I’ll call it: “elective isolation.”  People are actively choosing to disconnect and move about in a personal bubble of isolation, totally void of connection, for the better part of their daily lives.  I noticed many walking around very disconnected, with blank stares (if eyes are not on phones) not connected to surroundings or others in their midst.  I’m sure you’ve observed the table in a restaurant where the electronic devices are out and everyone is silently surfing, checking statuses, texting, emailing etc., not much physical connection is taking place.  This can be seen in couples, friends, families and various group dynamics.  With an almost infinite number of internet and entertainment options available at our fingertips, we are lured out of our actual environments and into virtual ones.  More and more is vying for our attention, we barely remember to look each other in the eye when we communicate.  We are losing social interactive skills, we don’t exchange a smile or say “hello,” to those we pass by and sometimes not even to those we love.  We can’t seem to get out of our bubbles.  Maybe we don’t want to.  Getting out of our bubble is risky.  Connecting requires the risk of our vulnerability.  This need for connection/love/belonging appears to be deemed unworthy of our risk and we’ve convinced ourselves we need it less and less.

The 5-levels of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are: Physiological, Safety, Love and Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization.  Our needs are built upon each other.  When our physiological needs are met, we then move on to fill our need for safety and so on. (McLaud, S. A., 2007).  We have healthy functioning when we make progress and are moving toward personal growth and the apex of the pyramid, which is “self-actualization.”  Self-actualization means to find purpose and meaning in life, and to realize and become the best version of ourselves.

Much like a home built without a strong foundation, when the foundational building blocks of our lower level needs are missing, the pyramid crumbles.  Throw in any life experience which shakes the core of our foundations and the result can feel devastating.  When we suffer a deficiency, that need becomes our strongest drive.  If that need is love and belonging, we do all that we can to fill the void, even when it can be unhealthy.  Many times this void is filled with: numbing, overworking, addictions, affairs, the pursuit of money, power or material things.

Some people possess the ability to recover and rebuild their foundation well when shaken or broken.  These people are what those in the mental health profession refer to as: “resilient.”  One common factor found in those who are resilient is that they have strong support systems and are deeply connected with satisfying relationships.  Resilient people reach out to others for help, for support.  They recognize when they are struggling and need support in order to heal and move forward.  It is a well-known fact that twelve step-programs succeed largely because of the connection with a sponsor and shared experiences in group.  Trauma victims survive in part because they connect with and lean on the support of others.  When the chronically ill or the elderly suffer loss, those who have a loving support system fair far better in life by lead fulfilling lives, despite their losses.  When someone who is bullied or made to feel like an outcast in one setting feels loved and a sense of belonging elsewhere, he is far more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges he faces.

Life knocks us down sometimes.  We’ve all been there at one time or another.  When you find yourself with a shaky foundation or unable to move forward, don’t isolate yourself in a bubble.  Reach out, take a risk, and become vulnerable.  Put all your efforts into building a strong support system of friends, family, peers, teachers, religious leaders, counselors and advocates.  A counselor can be an important part of that system.  With a strong support system in place, you are better equipped to move toward becoming your best self.  You just might find you can move beyond the apex of self-actualization and into what Maslow describes in his expanded hierarchy as, “transcendence.”  Reaching this level is when those who were once supported, become the supporter.

By Kristy Fox-Hart, Graduate Student Intern on October 16, 2014

McLaud, S. A. (2007). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from         http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html