Love & Support
Giving and receiving love and support makes you healthier and happier.
At the Heart of Healing: Connection
Loneliness and Isolation
Medicine today tends to focus primarily on the physical and mechanistic: drugs and surgery, genes and germs, microbes and molecules. However, there isn’t any other factor in medicine – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes than loneliness and isolation.
Love and intimacy — our ability to connect with ourselves and others, is at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be recommending it for his or her patients. It would be malpractice not to prescribe it — yet, with few exceptions, we doctors do not learn much about the healing power of love, intimacy, and transformation in our medical training.
There is a deep spiritual hunger in this country. The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease, but also what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease. The profound sense of loneliness, isolation, alienation, and depression that are so prevalent in our culture with the breakdown of the social structures that used to provide us with a sense of connection and community. It is, to me, a root of the illness, cynicism, and violence in our society.
We are creatures of community. Those individuals, societies, and cultures who learned to take care of each other, to love each other, and to nurture relationships with each other during the past several hundred thousand years were more likely to survive than those who did not. Those people who did not learn to take care of each other often did not make it. In our culture, the idea of spending time taking care of each other and creating communities has become increasingly rare. Ignoring these ideas imperils our survival.
Awareness is the first step in healing, both individually and socially. Part of the value of science is to increase the level of awareness of how much these choices matter that we make each day. Not just a little, but a lot, and not just to the quality of life but also the quantity of life – to our survival. When we understand how important these issues are, then we can do something about it. These include:
- spending more time with our friends and family
- communication skills
- group support
- confession, forgiveness, and redemption
- compassion, altruism, and service
When we increase the love and intimacy in our lives, we also increase the health, joy, and meaning in our lives.
Group support is the part of the comprehensive lifestyle change program that allows individuals participating in the program to connect with each other. For those men and women who have forgotten the power of connection or perhaps never had the “techniques” required to create it for themselves, group support is a tool to this end. What is learned in these groups is available to all. It taps into the healing power of connection that can result in emotional and spiritual transformations that include:
- Rediscovering inner sources of peace, joy, and well-being
- Learning how to communicate in ways that enhance intimacy with loved ones
- Creating a healthy community of friends and family
- Developing more compassion and empathy for both yourself and others
At the Heart of Connection: Communication
Our feelings help to connect us, whereas thoughts – especially judgments – tend to isolate us. Our emotions are more likely to be heard by someone than our thoughts. Sharing ideas may, or may not, bring our minds closer together, whereas communicating emotions unites our hearts. Emotions influence us more than thoughts. Thoughts are processed and filtered through our heads. Feelings go straight to the heart. Appealing to one’s emotions often works more effectively than “rational” discourse.
Good Communication Skills
There are basic guidelines one can follow to improve one’s ability to connect with others:
- Identify what you are feeling What you are really feeling, not what you believe you ought to feel. Part of the value of quieting your mind with meditation or prayer is that it can help you pay greater attention to what you’re really feeling.
- Express what you are feeling Tell the other person directly and clearly what and how you are feeling. Be careful to express your feelings and not your thoughts.
- Listen actively with empathy and compassion
- Know the difference between empathy and sympathy
Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Empathy means listening with compassion — trying to experience and understand what the other person is feeling.Sympathy means feeling sorry for someone, a usually well-intentioned gesture that often creates more distance between people.
- Acknowledge the other person’s feelings, with empathy, caring and compassion – practice fluent listening
“Fluent listening” describes finding an experience inside yourself that is equivalent to the one being expressed by the other person. Fluent listening can facilitate feelings of connection. When you respond to the person talking with an understanding from within that resonates with their experience, they feel heard, understood, and a connection is felt.
Fluent listening requires sufficient connection to oneself and to one’s experiences, to know what it feels like to be the other person on the inside. As you listen, it is important to monitor yourself to ensure that you avoid making judgments or criticisms of what the other person is saying.
Your role is to try to understand how it would feel to be where the other person is.
It is often a struggle to be a fluent listener. Oftentimes, people are excellent advice-givers, but it is far more challenging to respond from within by finding and connecting with one’s own similar feelings and experiences.
Some people assert that they don’t want to be where the other person is.
- I don’t want to feel like that.
- I don’t want to listen to that or have anything to do with that.
- I don’t want to have to deal with anyone else’s stuff. I have enough to deal with myself.
This kind of response tends to make people feel alone. It can make others want to move away from you. This way of wanting to avoid the experience of another person is at the core of the isolation that many of us feel.
As a fluent listener, you can respond briefly, since your role is not the central one at that point, but a supportive one. It is a time to give something back to the speaker. You might say, “I understand and it makes me feel sad or happy or worried or apprehensive.” It is appropriate at times, if you can’t directly relate to the experience of another, to say, “I’ve never had that experience. Could you tell me more?”