Human Propensity For Tangible Connection

Deep down, at the core of our being, we all have a longing for wholeness. How we experience this basic desire in our day-to-day lives may be different. For some, it’s a sense of belonging when we experience resonance with someone or are accepted. Others, it’s a hollow feeling of disconnection or loneliness, or perhaps it’s a compulsion to soothe pain in an unhealthy way. Whatever the case, the desire for wholeness is basic to the human experience.

Feeling socially connected, especially in an increasingly isolated world, is more important than ever. Usually, people think that the pleasurable effects of alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and the like are the primary drivers of addiction. We know for certain that once ingested these substances trigger the release of dopamine and several other pleasure-related neurochemicals into the brain. These potentially addictive substances make us feel good, and because we like to feel good, we tend to go back for more.

Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander looked at the results of studies in which rats were placed in empty cages, alone, with two water bottles to choose from — one with pure water, the other with heroin-infused water. Those experiments showed that as time passed these rats would uniformly get hooked on and eventually overdose from heroin. So the researchers unsurprisingly concluded that the potential of extreme pleasure, in and of itself, is addictive.

Alexander was bothered by the fact that the cages in which the rats were isolated were small, with no potential for stimulation beyond the heroin. Alexander thought: Of course they all got high. What else were they supposed to do? In response to this perceived shortcoming, Alexander created what we now call “the rat park,” a cage approximately 200 times larger than the typical isolation cage, with Hamster wheels and multi-colored balls to play with, plenty of tasty food to eat, and spaces for mating and raising litters. And he put not one rat, but 20 rats (of both genders) into the cage.[1]

Then, and only then, did he mirror the old experiments, offering one bottle of pure water and one bottle of heroin water. Surprisingly, the rats ignored the heroin. They were much more interested in typical communal rat activities such as playing, fighting, eating, and mating. This means, with a little bit of social stimulation and connection, addiction disappeared. Even rats who had previously been isolated and sucking on the heroin water left it alone once they were introduced to the rat park. While we are not animals, we do have a similar social construct. They need stimulation, company, play, drama, sex, and interaction to stay happy. Humans, however, add an extra layer to this equation, we need to be able to trust and to emotionally attach.

This human need for trust and attachment was initially studied and developed as a psychological construct in the 1950s when John Bowlby tracked the reactions of small children when they were separated from their parents.[2] Those who experience secure attachment as infants, toddlers, and small children usually carry that with them into adulthood, and they are naturally able to trust and connect in healthy ways. While it is possible, those who don’t experience secure early-life attachment tend to struggle with trust and connection later in life.

With proper guidance and a fair amount of conscious effort the individuals who were not privileged with secure attachment in childhood can learn to securely attach through therapy, support groups, and various other healthy and healing relationships creating earned security, which means developing a secure style through relationships and interactions in adulthood. To earn this type of security, you need to develop a coherent understanding about what happened to you as a child. Healing from early childhood trauma is vital to your total health as an individual. Lets take a quick look at the spiritual drive within us.

Spirituality means different things to different people.  Religion and faith might be part of someone’s spirituality, but spirituality isn’t always religious. Everyone has spiritual needs throughout their lives whether they follow a religion or not. Spiritual needs can include:

  • the need for meaning and purpose in our lives
  • the need to love and feel loved
  • the need to feel a sense of belonging
  • the need to feel hope, peace and gratitude.  

People do different things to meet these spiritual needs, depending on what’s important to them. Some people do things within their religion such as pray or spending time in fellowship at religious gatherings.   For other people, it could be being with friends and family, spending time in nature or doing work or hobbies.

What’s most important to someone can change over their life time. 

All humans need to experience regularly, the healing and empowerment of love from others, self, and an ultimate source. Everyone needs to experience moments that expand us beyond the immediate sensory spheres. To be whole, we all require vital beliefs that give some sense of meaning and hope the midst of losses, tragedies, and failures. Every person needs to have values, priorities, and life commitments, usually centered in issues of justice, integrity, and love, that guide us in personally and socially responsible living. Each human being needs to discover and develop their creativity and love of their unique spiritual self. Humanity survives when we have a deepening awareness of oneness with other people and with the natural world. Every human being needs spiritual resources to help heal the painful wounds of grief, guilt, resentment, unforgiveness, self-rejection, and shame. We also need spiritual resources to deepen our experiences of trust, self-esteem, hope, joy and love of life.

If you’re not sure how to begin forming social connections start by looking inward. What are your interests or hobbies? What kind of personalities are you naturally comfortable around? Forming strong, healthy relationships with others means opening up, actively listening, and being open to sharing what you’re going through. These relationships can change the course of your life.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection. Developing healthy interpersonal connections as part of recovery and healing is not easy. It takes time, effort, and a willing support network. These issues may be increased due to mask wearing especially those suffering from PTSD/ABUSE TRAUAMA. Please reach out to someone in your local area if you need help.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357) SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. TTY: 1-800-487-4889

[1] Alexander, B. K., Beyerstein, B. L., Hadaway, P. F., & Coambs, R. B. (1981). Effect of early and later colony housing on oral ingestion of morphine in rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 15(4), 571-576.
[2] Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental psychology, 28(5), 759.
Read another perspective here from Dr. Doug What are you worth?
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