By Cathy A. Williams, MSW, LCSW, CEAP
All humans want to be close to others. We need relationships that provide closeness and support. We want to give and receive love. An emotional connection occurs between two people when there is an exchange of feelings and a bond is formed. We can have connections with family, friends or people in the workplace.
If you are unable to connect to others, you are at risk for isolation and loneliness. This inability to connect can lead to serious health issues and higher rates of depression and anxiety. Studies have found the mortality risk is 20 percent higher for those who are socially isolated. Fortunately, there are many ways to learn to connect better with others.
Our ability to connect is affected by many factors, such as the family we grew up in, exposure to trauma and our attachment style. If the family you grew up in spent time together, treated each other with respect and communicated well, you learned to feel safe and place a high value on relationships. But if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, for example if you experienced alcoholism, mental illness or abusive parents, then you may have trouble trusting others and you may feel uncomfortable expressing yourself.
There are three types of attachment: secure, insecure and avoidant. You can change your attachment style through therapy and by learning skills to cope better and feel safe in relationships.
Childhood trauma such as abuse, neglect, natural disasters or exposure to dangerous situations alters the brains by reducing the size of the cortex. This has been observed in MRIs. In severe situations, a child can develop reactive attachment disorder (RAD). RAD can interfere with a child's ability to form healthy relationships. Therapy is helpful to establish nurturing between a child and the caregiver.
You can improve your social connectedness by being compassionate and positive to others, spending more time listening, taking part in family traditions and staying in touch with family and friends. Face-to-face contact is needed to sustain relationships. In the workplace, it is helpful to socialize with coworkers, ask for support when it’s needed and show gratitude.
There are resources for help with developing healthy relationships. In addition to BJC EAP, Al-anon and Co-Dependents Anonymous are helpful. The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) is also a good resource for education and support.