When we desperately want a specific kind of contact or attention, and we don’t get it, it can be overwhelmingly painful.
We humans are wired to need certain kinds of affection.
It’s not an intellectual thing. It’s not a thing that we sit down, think about, and decide one day that we desperately crave human contact and affection.
There are many theories about why we so desperately want and need certain types of contact and affection.
Some researchers think it’s tied into the human survival drive.
They suspect that, when we’re tiny, defenseless babies, it was human contact and connectedness that provide security against being abandoned and possibly dying.
After all, a baby can’t survive on its own. It needs a caretaker that cares about it in order to live.
Thus, they think that our strong need for attachment stems from our fear of abandonment as infants.
It’s been established that human contact and intimacy is associated with the production in our bodies and brains of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, which result in pleasurable feelings.
That is to say: even our biology inclines us to want and need human contact and intimacy.
But what happens when we don’t get it?
What happens when we’re denied that positive contact and intimacy and attention and affection again, and again, and again, over the course of years or even decades?
There are definitely people reading this right now who are thinking, “I don’t NEED that connection and intimacy.”
There are undoubtedly people reading this right now who are thinking, “That may be true for OTHER people, but I’VE learned to live without those things.”
And there are definitely people who have decided that the need for human contact and intimacy invites so many opportunities to get hurt and feel horrible, that they’ve made a conscious decision to cut themselves off from it.
When we have to go without that human contact, affection, and intimacy over time, we tend to develop defenses against how painful the lack of those things are.
We close ourselves off.
Sometimes we even dissociate our powerful desire for intimacy and the feelings it stirs up.
But even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it…that need never quite goes away, does it?
We can ignore it, deny it disown it, dissociate it…but we were still powerfully wired, once upon a time, to want to be held.
To be seen.
To be understood.
To be accepted and wanted and needed and loved.
When we become aware of our wants and needs for intimacy and connection, it’s important that we not judge it.
It’s important that we not judge ourselves for wanting closeness.
And it’s really important that we not judge ourselves harshly for things we’ve done in in the past to feel connection— even if those things have led to painful outcomes.
People will do lots of things to try to compensate for a feeling of emptiness.
Things we’re not proud of, things that seem foolish, things that it’s really easy to make fun of or get judgmental about.
Be gentle with yourself.
The need for intimacy and connection is powerful and innate.
It stirs up powerful chemicals in our bodies and brains, and it often impairs our judgment.
Give yourself a break.
Show yourself some compassion.
And make the best decisions you can going forward, because we can’t undo the past.
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One thought on “Our powerful, frustrating need for connection.”
Solitude has always been important to, long, beautiful stretches of solitude on a daily basis. At the same time, this recent forced isolation (which is not the same as solitude because it’s forced) has shown me that human contact means a lot more to my health than I thought it did. A stray cat that lets me pet it, a nice tree that I hug, a flower to touch, a plush toy to cuddle, other peoples’ dogs showing me affection — all of these are good, but they are inadequate substitutes for a human hug. A smile from a stranger can give me such relief that I break into tears. Even a voice on the telephone is better than a total lack of human companionship. Why am I so shamed of this? Because it’s easier to berate myself for needing than it is to admit to myself how much I want something I can’t have. Thank you, Dr. Doyle, for understanding the need for hugs.