Connection can be defined as an interaction between two or more people where each person feels empowered and understood. It is commonly thought that people are born with a need for connection. Research in neuroscience shows that our brains can actually grow through healthy connections!
Disconnection, on the other hand, is a type of interaction where misunderstanding, lack of empathy, or even a sense of danger occurs. Disconnection can happen in many ways. We might experience an acute disconnection when we feel like the other person in the relationship is not responding to our attempts to connect. For example, if one partner says, “this is a great view!” and the other person doesn’t respond or simply says “mm hmm” the first partner may feel like their partner isn’t responding very well to their attempt at connection. If the second partner were to answer “yeah, I think so too” or even “I disagree, our last hike had much better views” chances are that the first person will feel heard and more connected because there is more room for ongoing dialogue. Moments of disconnection are common in relationships and many are minor and can be repaired.
A second type of disconnection is chronic, where the sense of disconnection escalates and one person in the relationship exercises power over another person who feels increasingly hurt and disconnected. The less powerful person begins feeling unsafe sharing parts of themselves and becomes fearful of bringing their true self into the relationship. As the disconnection increases it becomes less and less likely that growth will occur within the relationship and repair becomes more difficult. Examples of this might include a teen who changes to fit in due to a desire to be part of a group or an abusive relationship where one partner has power over the other and the less powerful partner tries to change to appease the more powerful partner.
Traumatic disconnection is a third form of disconnection. In traumatic disconnection a person with a history of trauma feels triggered by a sense of disconnection and becomes unavailable for connection because of a heightened emotional state that leaves them feeling unsafe. The triggered person may remain in a state of disconnection until a sense of safety can be restored. For example, someone who has been emotionally abused may experience traumatic disconnection when a friend says something that feels hurtful and immediately leads the abuse survivor to feel unsafe.
If disconnection occurs repeatedly and without repair, a person may experience a feeling of what is known as condemned isolation in which they sense that they are alone and excluded from the social community. A person experiencing condemned isolation often blames themselves for the situation and feels unworthy of healthy relationships.
Through Relational-Cultural Therapy (RCT) a counselor can create a safe environment to begin exploring connection and disconnection in various relationships. A therapeutic relationship can help identify thoughts and behaviors that lead to growth and connection and those that lead to disconnection and hurt feelings. Through the therapeutic relationship it becomes possible to rework ideas about relationships. As people in therapy gain a sense empowerment and connection they increasingly experience what are referred to as the five good things: zest, worth, clarity, productivity, and desire for more connection. These five good things are qualities that encourage growth within relationships. Once people have experienced growth and positive change in their personal lives, they sometimes want to share these newly discovered qualities with others in the community. They may build relationships with neighbors or coworkers or through volunteer work. In doing so, the community benefits from the changes made at the individual level. Personal growth becomes community growth!
Jbmti.org has more on Relational-Cultural theory and therapy.
Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Connected