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The Power of Connection

January 7, 2014

TLC GUEST BLOGGER: Barb Dorrington, MEd

A few short years ago, I became a grandparent to a beautiful and happy little girl named Sadie. Sadly she lives far away, so I have to make each visit count. It led me to think of neuroscientist Mark Brady’s big brain question as to how I could be there for her, in spite of the miles that separate us. That question, and my love for Sadie, got me to thinking how to be that special grandma.

Bottom line; we all want to connect, and the new brain research points to the reality that social pain, such as longing to hear and spend time with a grandchild, is every bit as distressing as physical pain. Social connection is our human motivator to live, work and play. UCLA Director Matthew Lieberman’s two decades of work on social connection verified that our brains are wired for social connection. He noted that when we are feeling loss, pain medication actually minimizes that “pain of heart”. Hence, our brains treat social and physical pain similarly. As Lieberman points out, we don’t just tell someone to “get over a broken leg,” so we need special training and tools to figure out the best ways to connect.

Researchers like Stephen Porges have discovered that our ability to think socially is so central to our survival that the human brain has developed a network just for social thinking. This network helps us see people as social beings with thoughts and feelings. It is like we have mind-reading abilities to assess the faces of those around us, not only to keep us safe, but also to help us connect. Social connection is one of the best predictors of happiness, well-being and productivity.

Think about how our worldview would look different if there never had been a John Lennon. Lennon was asked to write a school assignment about what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he wrote down “happy,” he was told he did not understand the assignment. Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, who raised him from infancy, bought him his first guitar and nurtured his desire to find happiness. Thank goodness for Aunt Mimi, and thank goodness for Lennon’s “Imagine”

As counselors and debriefers of tragic events, let us never question the impact of our connection and our support. We will never replace a parent or grandparent, or be that special Aunt Mimi, but the quality, timeliness and rhythm of our support at a time of crisis cannot be underestimated. Many of the children we invest in are seeking a safe haven with close, nurturing, people who listen. They want to feel happy again, and some fear they will never get there. It is through our trauma training and how we learn to “walk” with the survivors of a tragedy in those first dark days and months. It is here that we recognize the value of having a well-designed and well-researched blueprint to follow, and thank goodness for the many TLC programs that support these trauma skills.

I perused the TLC website to look at the 40 online courses listed, and all of them offer “roadmaps” to help clinicians after the initial trauma. They focus on safety and connection. Self-care is a key component in the programs. We all want to make a difference with the clients we meet. In order to give, we need to explore our own strengths. Take a look at “Clear Vision 2,” a course that helps us fully uncover our “resiliency within.” Or have a look at the newest of the courses, “Healing the Helper,” which raises awareness about compassion fatigue. Stay current, stay connected.

Barb Dorrington

One Comment leave one →
  1. Carol Ann Oleksiak permalink
    January 14, 2014 2:33 pm

    Bravo – great article on Connection. I wish our legislators would read this.

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