How Can We Create Connection During Coronavirus Shelter-In-Place?
A conversation between Kathleen Day, AMFT, CHT, and Laurel Roberts-Meese, LMFT.
Laurel Roberts-Meese: I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and I work with motivated people around anxiety, trauma, and of course deepening relationships as often happens in therapy. I have a few openings in my practice right now. I’m so looking forward to this conversation. Kathleen, can you tell us about what you do?
Kathleen Day: I’m an Associate MFT and a certified clinical hypnotherapist, which means I definitely don’t use pocket watches, but work with you to explore your unconscious. A lot of the times we can do work deepening our connection, and with hypnotherapy to work around death and dying, fear of death and dying, how to recover from breakups, and also how to improve your relationship with yourself. These are things I love to love working with but I also love to explore and understand people wherever they’re at.
LRM: Obviously we’re all faced with having to do things in a different way right now. We’re having to move our practices 100% online, and we’re looking at how to build and maintain connections with our therapy clients but also with each other and our loved ones. How do you build connection right now when some of the ways we’ve connected in the past aren’t available right now?
KD: This a great question as we’re about 4 weeks into physical distancing. To those of you isolating alone or with people who are driving you up the wall, you’re not alone. The most important thing is self-compassion. It’s okay if it’s hard – it’s supposed to be hard! Start with looking at your own needs. Do you need more alone time? More connection? The first week people were going nuts socializing on Zoom, and now some of our fears are deeper. If connecting with others is helpful, it can be hard to know who’s a safe person and what boundaries you need to have. Or recognizing that you need some laughter and levity, or direct emotional support at certain times. We really can find strength in vulnerability, and this is an opportunity – and challenge! – to be vulnerable in order to get your needs met. Are you seeing that too?
LRM: I mean, yeah. What I’m seeing right now is people coming out of the initial survival mode and settling into a new phase. Questions of being vulnerable are coming up. Even before this shelter-in-place, I was seeing a lot of people who so badly wanted to be connected to others and experience that emotional intimacy, and now it’s even more challenging when you can’t be in the same room with someone. The thing that comes to mind first around building connection is that there are two kinds: past trauma, and current, immediate emotion. Both are part of intimacy, but immediacy often gets left out of a broader definition of intimacy. With real deep intimacy, you can talk about what you’re feeling right now even if it’s highly uncomfortable. We shy away from it because we’re worried we won’t be met or heard or seen, or worse, be dismissed. You can gradual titrate up with immediate intimacy and see what response you get to see if this is a safe person to get closer. There are so many ways to build connection, and a great way to start building closeness is to start with small chunks of immediate intimacy and see how it goes, working your way up to bigger, scarier things.
KD: Absolutely. That brings to mind what we see around toxic positivity and dismissing people’s feelings by pointing out positives. If you’re on the receiving end of someone trying to deepened connection, it can be as simple as saying “I hear you” or “that really sucks.”
LRM: Absolutely. We could do a whole other episode about toxic positivity. Dismissing someone with a platitude is not helpful, it’s harmful, and it’s a big barrier to creating connection. It also doesn’t make space for the person giving the platitude to sit with and acknowledge their own feelings of fear and anger and loneliness, which indicates a lack of self-compassion.
KD: Yeah. There are some barriers to deepening connection. What are some that come to mind for you?
LRM: Sometimes the barriers to connection are actually a way to connect. Fear is a huge barrier to connection. Fear of being vulnerable, fear of being dismissed. Whether you’ve had past experiences with others, or have been socialized to not think it’s okay to share your emotions and make a connection that way, fear is the biggest barrier we have. It has always existed, but right now while we’re having a collection trauma experience, it may be heightened. What barriers are you seeing?
KD: Definitely agree with fear being number one. Another might be overwhelm. Right now we’re all trying to meet our basic needs, something that might be a way to deepen connection is to offer help or support. Helping decrease overwhelm is a great way to build connection. If you’re experiencing overwhelm, understand it’s okay, and working to meet you own needs first; accepting help or reaching out to ask for help can create connections in your community. It also helps to know what’s needed, and what YOU need, particularly with boundaries. You may also need to look at boundaries, particularly if you have a friend that only wants to talk about the news and you really just want to share memes. Share your needs even it’s really hard.
LRM: Yeah. I have to give a shoutout here to Esther Perel who has been doing some webcasts about connection during shelter-in-place and has spoken really beautifully about how it’s necessary to have flexible boundaries. You may need to tighten or loosen boundaries. Check them out here. When we talk about barriers to building and deepening intimacy, the topic of boundaries always comes up. Boundaries are not a harsh thing, they are an act of love. Letting someone know where you are and what you need is an act of love.
KD: Yes, it creates containment.
LRM: (laughs) Yes, while we are globally trying to contain. We are also having to contain our experiences and emotions while also finding safe ways to communicate and express. Any other barriers?
KD: Access issues. I’m also aware that what we’re talking about this week is probably different than what we would have talked about last week. This idea of knowing that there’s a progression as you survive and mov through each day. Being in the moment as much as you can, and having self-compassion and patience with ourselves and with others. We all need loving kindness, and there’s a lot of fear that often comes from not being grounded.
LRM: That makes me think of another barrier, which is something we see in our therapist friends a lot, which is to not take care of yourself first. If you’re so focused on others’ needs and not your own, you’re not going to be able to be deeply connected to others. There are some phases of life and careers and situations do make it very difficult to be connected to ourselves: having young children or aging parents, being an overworked therapist, etc. These are all very hard, and sometimes you can’t do what you need, but you have to do what you can.
KD: Yes, especially healthcare workers on the front lines who are physically putting themselves in harms way. People who are around them, take care of them, show them a lot of love. They may not be able to ask for what they need, but it’s probably food and sleep before they go back on shift. Anyone who’s in that role. Anyone who’s in that role, thank you, and take care of yourself as best you can. If you don’t have support, meet your basic needs and connection will come. To those with support, ask for the help you need.
LRM: Asking for what you need is a way to deepen connection, absolutely. When someone I care about tells me, “Hey, this is what I need,” I am so grateful, because then I don’t have to guess! Most of the time I can just do it if I have the resources or time. I love when I know how to help someone in a way that is most helpful to them. It’s such a great feeling. It deepens my connection to them and their connection to me. It’s so simple and yet we find it so difficult.
We started talking about it a little, but I’m wondering your thoughts: how does our relationship with ourselves change when we have deep, meaningful connections with other people?
KD: Even as you say that I feel a warmth in my chest. Love! There’s an abundance of love for self and others. I’m a transpersonal therapist, so my belief is in being connected to something bigger than ourselves, and often that’s other people or something spiritual. We come from love and we are love. When that’s expanded within ourselves, it removes us from our critical nature, our fears, and the more egoic emotions, which can be really challenging. When we’re connected, we have a greater sense of self and improved self-esteem. When we feel safe, we’re more likely to look at ourselves and focus on what we want in our lives. It’s really a slowing down and expanded self.
LRM: I love that idea of the expanded sense of self through connection to others. I also think the more we’re connected to others, in some ways we’re vulnerable, but it increases our safety. Something this crisis has really demonstrated is that the only security we have is in other people, even if we’re not physically with them. Housing, employment, etc, there’s no foolproof plan. You could have made all the right choices in life and still found yourself in a crisis right now. What creates safety and stability is having people who love you and want to help you, and the way to have that is to have deep, meaningful connections. Every relationship is different and from different parts of your life, but they all create a big web that keeps you safe. When you have that sense of safety, going through very difficult things your anxiety will be lower than if you didn’t have those connections. That’s something that money and so-called security can’t provide. Anyway, I could talk for another hour about this, but is there anything you want to let people know about your practice, or tips for managing anxiety?
KD: In terms of tips, I really recommend EFT, also known as tapping. I teach this, and you can also find thousands on YouTube. I also encouraging journaling, oracle or tarot. Connect with yourself at the beginning of each day. Also a constant practice of self-compassion; some thngs don’t make sense and they are hard and painful, and that’s okay. You’re not alone. Also sometimes the way we speak about our situations is really powerful. This isn’t the new normal, it’s just the change this week. There’s community available in new ways.
LRM: If people want to get in touch with you, how do they do that?
KD: You can visit my website. I do offer sliding scale, and I have greater availability now that everything is online. Feel free to reach out, even if you’re just curious about therapy with hypnotherapy or EFT, or therapy on its own..
LRM: Great, thanks so much. If people want to get in touch with me, they can visit my website or Facebook page, or email me. Thank you so much Kathleen!
Kathleen Day, AMFT #94828, is supervised by Myles Downs LMFT #48178 at New Perspectives Center For Counseling.