A lot of studies show how people in healthy, close connections live longer, are happier, have less medical problems and have a more positive outlook on life and their future throughout the life cycle. As Mother Theresa said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
Connections help make life less scary and overwhelming for all of us, starting from infancy and continuing throughout life. They also allow us to share its beauty with people we love. Above all, connections help us regulate each other’s emotions, making them more manageable. We all had the experience of being scared about something. We cannot calm ourselves down, no matter what we say to ourselves. We call a trusted friend, or our emotional partner, or a family member with whom we feel safe. We tell them what is scaring us. They seem to find the right words to calm us down, soothe and reassure us. Chances are they are not saying anything dramatically different than what we could have said ourselves. And yet, when it comes from them rather than from us what they say has a healing quality that our self-talk lacked. Influenced by their words, we calm down: we breed slower, we feel our body relaxing, we feel our heart to quieting down and returning to beat at a normal rhythm again.
What is this power from loved ones that affects our bodies and minds? It is the feeling of security that comes from the relationship that determines how we respond to their interventions. In other words, it isn’t so much what they say to us, but what their words reflect that is healing. Their words reflect closeness, trust, love, concern, presence, attunement and, ultimately, security. When we feel secure we are no longer scared. This process is not unlike what happens between a parent and a toddler. The toddler falls, and immediately starts screaming at the top of his lungs. The parent comes close, picks him up, holds him close and starts talking to him in a calming, soothing voice. “Don’t worry, you did not get hurt. You are all right. I am here now. Nothing bad will happen to you.” Like magic, the toddler stops crying because the danger is no longer present, as the parent reassures him he is not alone. The physical proximity of the parent provides the feeling of safety the toddler needs to stop being afraid. The danger is gone. The toddler feels safe again.
Nothing can take the place of these precious connections. Valuing the people we love and keeping them close is very important. Getting involved in the community is a way of developing connections when we live alone, reducing isolation and increasing a feeling of belonging and being useful.
At times, when we don’t have an opportunity to connect with another human being, a close connection with a pet provides comfort and companionship, reducing isolation and disconnection. Everybody can benefit from a close relationship with a pet, but in particular older people who live isolated and only children.
What are the connections you value in your life?