Connection Is a Core Human Need, But We Are Terrible at It

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Authored by Brianna Wies in Medium. In his book Lost Connections, Johann Hari talks about his decades of work in the fields of trauma and mental health and why he believes that the root of almost everything we suffer through is a severed connection we never figured out how to repair.

At one point, Hari talks about an obesity clinic where patients who were overweight to the point of medical crisis were put on a supervised liquid diet in an effort to try to save their lives. The treatment worked, and many of the patients walked out of the clinic hundreds of pounds lighter and with a new lease on life—at first. What happened later was a side effect no doctor predicted. Some of the patients gained back all the weight and then some. Others endured psychotic breaks and one died by suicide.

After looking into why many of these patients had such adverse emotional reactions, the doctors discovered something important: The time when each patient began overeating usually correlated with a traumatic event they had no other coping mechanism for. Hari summed up the findings like this: “What we thought was the problem was very often a symptom of a problem that nobody knew anything about.”

Connection is the experience of oneness. It’s having shared experiences, relatable feelings, or similar ideas.

Of course, the implication is not that every single overweight person is suffering some kind of subconscious trauma. Many of the ongoing problems we cannot resolve are, in fact, symptoms of deeper problems we may not be aware of. In fact, Hari analogizes this to the smoke of a burning house: You can keep waving away the clouds, but without putting out the fire, your efforts will be futile.

The biggest problem in most people’s lives is trauma, and trauma is what creates a damaged ability to connect with others. “Trauma” is not a term reserved for the most severe and unrelenting atrocities one can experience. Anytime something scares us and we do not get over that fear, trauma is created. When we don’t believe we have the resources or abilities to cope with a certain problem or stimuli, we create adaptive behaviors to deny or avoid it.

It’s not the trauma itself that causes the most long-term damage; it is how the trauma wreaks havoc on the psyche and prevents reintegration into a normal, healthy life where other people and unknown situations are seen as benevolent.

You’ve probably heard this before in different ways: The opposite of addiction, is not sobriety, it’s connection. The foremost pillar of happiness is a sense of belonging and purpose. Cultures that are more communal are more mentally healthy as a whole. People who are alone often die earlier and get sicker before they do.

We are a tribal species. There is no way around this despite what many highly individualistic cultures may want us to believe. No person is an island unto themselves. We are born through connection, and it is through connection to others that we accomplish virtually everything else in life. We do not just prefer healthy relationships; we need them.

Connection is so important, but it is so often overlooked and there are few resources available to teach people how to foster real connection in their lives. But there are a few essential ideas that can help.

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