Human beings are one of the most social creatures on this planet. As creatures go we are not the strongest, nor the fastest, animal out there. We do however have a highly developed brain and form communities through our connection to one another. This has allowed us to go from living in caves to what we now enjoy in our society. We now have the ability to communicate instantaneously with people who live on the other side of the planet in a matter of seconds.
Think about that. Consider how rapid our development has been in just the past few decades. We’ve learned how to fly faster than the speed of sound and even leave the planet less than 100 years ago. Compare that with just how long our species has existed. Much of this progress has a correlation with how our ability to communicate with one another has advanced. The sharing of ideas, critical thought, and feedback on what works and what needs improvement all advanced right alongside our technological advances. We can have connection to one another more than ever before.
Why then, despite all of these advancements are some of us feeling more isolated than ever? Studies have shown, and many therapists have directly observed, that a person who has suffered from neglect has more problems than a person who has endured physical abuse at the hands of their parents. With depression there is often a strong urge to isolate one’s self. In doing so, the condition worsens.
Brene Brown talks about the need for vulnerability and the importance of empathy. Shame too has a strong connection to depression and substance abuse. One would think that simply having a cell phone and the Internet at our disposal should make these problems vanish. However, depression is as rampant as ever, substance abuse is something all of us have likely either had or someone they knew struggled with it. Trauma also is a simple fact of life that everyone has experienced to some degree. When we lived in tribes and small groups if one member was suffering, it was noticed and could be attended to immediately.
In some ways we are actually more isolated today despite all these advancements in technology. Business deals and important social connections used to require a face to face conversation. A handshake was an important bond. The words spoken mattered a lot and you could tell a lot about the character of the person you were dealing with by how you observed their conduct. This is also why so many business deals are done on a golf course. Now we have contracts written that are 1000s of pages long. Text messages are sent in place of actual conversation. People are afraid to make physical contact with another in a professional setting for fear of a lawsuit from a potential perceived boundary violation.
The other day I observed an app that was supposed to provide therapy services via cell phone. I was horrified. If there is one thing that is more important than anything else in this career it is the importance of making an authentic connection to you the client. Over 80% of our communication with each other has nothing to do with the actual words spoken. Things such as tone of voice, rate of speech, and body language play a bigger part. Why then would words communicated via text alone be seen as anywhere near adequate? A phone conversation, even if only 5 minutes long, can be enough to talk someone out of committing suicide or stop a panic attack. How many of you can remember a time when you were struggling and simply hearing the voice of as loved one was enough to change around a horrible day, even if the discussion had nothing to do with what issue you were contending with? Sometimes simply sitting in the presence of another person you care about can be incredibly healing.
People need connection. Sometimes it’s more about being present than it is about solving a problem. Sending a quick text to check in on someone who might be having a rough day may not be enough to tell how that person is doing. After all, it can be easy to miss the other person’s tone of voice in an email, or realize if they are joking sarcastically or are in real trouble. Take the time to physically be in the room with the person. By that I mean be there and fully listen, feel, and connect with a person without thinking about something in the past, or trying to anticipate what tomorrow will bring. You don’t need to have the answers, in fact it’s better if you don’t. Sometimes it is enough to just be present, you may be doing far more for them than you may realize.
Here’s a great TED talk on our need for connection: