We are hard-wired for connection. From the moment we enter the world, every fibre of our being is designed to connect with another. We have rooting reflexes as soon as we enter the world and will root around looking for and trying to connect with our mother’s breast. Much importance is placed on initial skin to skin contact and we know, that this simple connection actually begins to regulate the stress response system which is activated in mum and baby during the birthing process. This instinct for connection (and particularly connection to our parent/caregiver) and for that nourishing, safe relationship continues as we grow. When the connection, particularly with the parent or caregiver is not comforting, safe or consistent, this causes a child a great deal of distress – the person they rely on for survival doesn’t behave as expected or needed. This distress places the child in an impossible situation – if the source of their survival is problematic then their very survival is at stake. The child internalises this dilemma and the locus of blame for the situation frequently shifts from the adult to the child. The child, in order to resolve the conflict that exists when the parent/caregiver isn’t ‘safe’, transfers the blame for the lack of safe, nurturing, consistent connection to themselves internalising shame, blame, fault etc. This can, as the child develops, cause disconnection with themselves and also with others. The internal pain that the child feels coupled with the sense of disconnection, can be the root of harmful or dangerous behaviours.
The good news is that, the disconnection caused by these adverse childhood experiences can be repaired and it’s never too late! The antidote to this disconnect and the behaviours which go with it, is experience of a safe, nurturing, consistent relationship. For some people (children and adults) the first step towards repairing the connection (or attachment) wound is the experience of a safe, nurturing, consistent relationship which is in their imagination – sometimes, it’s just too risky and painful to try this connection anywhere else.
We sometimes talk with clients about comfort animals or protective animals or even wise animals. We ask clients to picture in their imagination an animal which would bring them, for example, comfort. We encourage the client to take time to look and see the animal and to allow themselves to been seen by it. We ask them to listen and hear what the animal has to say to them. We invite them, in their imagination, to physically connect with the animal, feeling what that feels like. We encourage them to fully experience this connection and to take the connection out of the therapy room and into the world with them as a resource. As clients do this, gradually, this connection wound begins to repair. The fear they feel of connecting with another begins to reduce and other connections begin to be possible. It’s not an instant fix and it requires working at, but then doesn’t every relationship if we want to experience deeply?
There really is both power and healing in safe, nurturing, consistent connections. Beyond the place of our imagination, those of us with the opportunity to be that connection for another need to notice the sacred space that this occupies. To be able to be a connection in another’s life which brings healing and allows them to move on is possibly one of the most rewarding and humbling places to be.