Tag Archive for: connection

Brene Brown says that human beings are hard-wired for connection, and I believe her. So what happens when people, hard wired for connection, are told to keep their distance, as we are all being told to do to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus? To stay inside and away from family and friends? To keep six feet from people they interact with in person — no hugs, kisses hello, not even handshakes?

Cacioppo and Patrick, in their book “Loneliness” extensively catalogue the physiological and psychological impacts of loneliness on human beings, and likens the feeling of loneliness to that of a hunger signal — feeling lonely is a built in trigger to tell us to go spend time with other humans, because evolutionarily speaking, we do better when we are part of a group.

“In the same way that physical pain serves as a prompt to change behavior — the pain of burning skin tells you to pull your finger away from the frying pan — loneliness developed as a stimulus to get humans to pay more attention to their social connections, and to reach out toward others, to renew frayed or broken bonds.” (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008).

Isolation certainly can enhance the feelings of loneliness some people already experience, but this unprecendented time also comes with an opportunity to reach out and renew bonds — just in different ways than before. Technology, often the very thing that can keep people distanced and separated (as everyone focuses more on the phones in their hands than the people around them) has the possibility to bring people closer than ever.

When I moved to NYC from Los Angeles almost 10 years ago, I was very afraid that I was leaving all of my friends and family behind. Instead, I found making contact became an intentional act, and in many ways those relationships deepened. While my New York friends and I might spend weeks trying to coordinate our schedules for an in-person hang out — and wait to do all our catching up then — my West Coast friends kept up ongoing chat messages and text messages, weekly emails with updates about how we were all doing, and even coordinated virtual gaming nights and movie nights. The added negotiation of the distance meant I had to put more baseline effort into those relationships, and that in turn made it in some ways easier to stay connected with the people that physically I saw the least.

During this time of forced social isolation, that same intentional contact is more important than ever before. Using chat systems, text messages, emails, video chats, and even old-fashioned phone calls are vital ways to stay connected with people. This time of ongoing fear and uncertainty also provides an opportunity to reach out to those folks you have felt drifting away and have been wanting to reconnect with.

And, there is no shortage of online things to do with folks, as many places try to make online entertainment and socialization easier than ever:

Also, if there was a local activity or meet up you used to do before all the social distancing, check out whether or not that group has found a way to do the same (or similar thing) online.

Finally, just because we’re in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t mean you can’t try to make new friends. Different folks at Meetup are now doing all sorts of online meetup sessions.

On a last note, if feelings of loneliness and isolation are getting to be too much and you need immediate help or feel like you are in emotional crisis, crisis hotlines are still active and available, including NYC Well, where you can talk, text, or chat with either a peer or a professional counselor.

No matter what happens, we are all in this together, and no one should have to feel lonely, even if many of us are physically alone. Reaching out to each other is the best way for everyone to get through this.

I have a social work crush. A few years back, when I was first starting out as a social worker, I discovered this TED Talk:

Not only did I completely connect with Brené Brown’s ideas, I found a role model for the type of social worker I wanted to be, the kind that could create/discover an idea that everyone could benefit from. Brené talks about wanting to study connection and vulnerability as an attempt to solve her own struggles with those things. I think most social workers come to the profession with a secret goal to fix something in themselves, in their families, in their neighborhoods, or in their communities. They come to social work because they see themselves in the populations they serve, and they want to make a difference.

The longer I do this work, the more I fully embrace Brené’s ideas about vulnerability, shame, and the need for connection. In fact, the biggest problem I see most of my clients face is isolation — they lack the natural supports that other people have, the proverbial village that helps raise a child into adulthood. Without a natural village, a village of professionals and systems come in to support the individuals and families.

I spend a lot of my time with clients trying to connect them to systems and seeing if they can possibly find a way to connect, or reconnect with those supports they do have, build on the connections they already have in their families, friends, and communities. The heart of my therapy practice is about strengthening connections.

Then there is this article on drug addiction:

Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

Connection, again, is key. But the inherent struggle of connection is that it presupposes that you are worthy of it. Many of the individuals and families I encounter don’t feel worthy of connection. It’s part of what keeps them isolated (I strongly recommend you watch the above video in its entirety).


Much of the work I do is about helping people connect back to the best part of themselves in preparation for connecting with others.