We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness. ~Albert Schweitzer
To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous. ~Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
When I began my business/private practice almost eight years ago, my main value, intention, and driving force was connection. I wanted to connect with others. I wanted to connect with myself. I wanted to guide others to connect with their own whole self – body, mind, spirit, and soul. I wanted us to connect to our breath. To connect to the present moment. I wanted to connect more with my own family, my community, the greater world. I wanted the same for others. Connection.
Connection was my word for the last part of 2012, all of 2013, and then stayed with me from there on after as a base, a foundation of my work and being in the world.
Connection pushed me out of my comfort zone. It had me reaching out to people I never would have before. Connection expanded me in so many good and glorious ways. The friendships that grew from my own drive for connection are some of the most important in my, and my family’s, life.
Connection also brought me closer to me. Connecting with my body, connecting with my mind, connecting with my spirit. Unearthing and understanding some of the connections within me. The connections of my traumatic past and the my ways of being in the present.
And of course the intellectual connections: personal and political, social and self, individual and collective. The connections between trauma, grief, and embodiment. The deeper still understanding of systems and our inter-connected-ness as humans on this planet.
So much connection.
And even with all this connection happening, within and outside of me, to my body, to my intellect, to my Self, to my world, I still felt lonely.
Sometimes deeply lonely.
And not only lonely, but also alone.
A thing about trauma, is that it has us self-isolate. It also impacts our attachment styles and relationships. If we experienced trauma young enough, and the trauma was inflicted by primary or even secondary care-givers, our ability to trust others is deeply impacted.
In other words, it affects our willingness and ability to form deep, vulnerable, emotionally intimate relationships.
Which then, leaves us feeling lonely and alone, even if we are connected in some or many ways to other people. Because, if we haven’t processed our trauma, we are still in an activated state; we are weary of allowing others in; we “know better” than to allow ourselves to be vulnerable by stating our wants and needs. And deep, intimate, relationships cannot form. Because we are still in survival mode.
Until we can feel a sense of safeness in our body, a sense of physical safeness, we can’t move on into the work of emotional safeness and vulnerability. Our brain stems and nervous and lymbic systems need to be soothed and calmed and feel like we are physically okay before we can move into the next level work of emotions, compassion, and empathy, which includes vulnerability and the ability to state our wants and needs and then (more than not) have them met.
Our brains literally will not allow us to do the emotional work until it is convinced we are physically safe. If we have trauma living within us that we have not processed, our brain does not believe we are physically safe (because trauma, and our fight/flight/freeze response in our amygdala is concerned about actual physical safety and literal physical survival) – even if our frontal lobe, the logic part of our brain, knows that actually we are physically safe.
When we are in an activated state, we are not connected to our frontal lobe, we are living back in the survival response state of our amygdala.
Living in that survival state has varying degrees. Sometimes it shows up as full on panic attacks, other times it appears as a relatively low-grade anxiety or depression. And even if we are in a relatively low grade state of anxiety or depression, even if we can partially connect to logic in our frontal lobe, our brain stem and amygdala are running the show and will over-ride our frontal lobe and logic brain.
What all that can look like in our personal lives is that we have many important connections. We have friendships and relationships that mean the world to us. There are people in our life who have literally saved us and who we love dearly and deeply.
Even so, moving to a deeper level of intimacy with other humans is really hard. It is something that terrifies us in a way that is non- and pre-verbal. In a way that we know stems from trauma and has no logic in relation to the present moment and or person.
Part of our own personal trauma work is in calming our brain stem and limbic and nervous systems enough for them to understand that we are actually physically safe in this present moment, so that we can move into the next level territory of exploring what exactly emotional safeness is and how even in times we put our trust in a person we perhaps shouldn’t, we will survive it. Now is the work of moving beyond connection into relationship. Intentional, deep, vulnerable, intimate relationship that takes work and bravery on our end.
Relationship, attachment, belonging – these are also basic human needs. But they come after our physiological needs of food, water, shelter and the ability to use the bathroom; they also come after our need for physical safeness and safety. Until we have been able to (correctly) convince our activated systems that we are indeed physically safe, moving into relationship and emotional safe-enough-ness is nearly impossible.
This essay was originally written for my weekly-ish newsletter in January 2018. It has been updated and edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays you can subscribe here.
We will be exploring our relationships, how complex trauma impacts them, and how we can begin to shift that, in the six month Trauma Informed Embodiment™ for Relationship that begins September 1. You can learn more here.