CBT therapist Michael O'Sullivan reflects on the Royal Wedding and what it means to be connected to someone and how this affects our mental health
I am watching Bishop Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle on the television.
It is a master class of communication for the simple reason that he is clearly a man who knows how to “connect” with people.
The word ‘connection’ comes up time and time again in many therapies.
It is part of compassionate focussed therapy. Mindfulness focuses on the breath which “connects” us with the fact that we are “alive”. The 12 Step programme from Alcoholics Anonymous is all about connection.
So why this emphasis on connection?
For someone with depression the experience of early relationships with the significant people on the “stage of their life” can be so damaging that the idea of close connections with others feels terrifying.
The fear is that history will repeat itself in all relationships.
People with depression disconnect themselves emotionally in their relationships.
They do however survive through wearing “masks”. However, such survival comes at a price and they rarely experience the close connection with others they crave.
It would seem therefore that if we need to move towards good mental health we need to “reconnect”.
In Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP) there is a technique called” situational analysis”.
Although it may feel as if we live our lives seamlessly with one moment merging into the next, CBASP asks us to think about our lives as “slices of time”.
Each situation we find ourselves in is an event with a beginning middle and end.
We interpret the situation we are in, we act, and then we look at the outcome we get. However, for people with depression, the outcome is often negative and it is one where they will disconnect themselves from the situation.
Jon is always arguing with his partner. In looking at one argument as a slice of time he described acting passively and withdrawing, disconnecting himself from the reality of what was going on between him and his partner. Rather than listen and respond to what his partner was doing and saying, he listened to his own thoughts. These thoughts told him to:
“Don’t speak up you’ll make things worse”
“Your opinion does not matter anyway
His behaviour echoed this thoughts. He avoided eye contact. At the end of the situation he left the scene.
He did not connect because of the stamp left by his early relationships together with the fear of what might happen if he did speak.
When the next argument came he decided to stay in the situation. He spoke directly to his partner about what he wanted, and listened to the response he was given.
It was uncomfortable but he made a “connection” with his partner. It was a connection he had long avoided. He noticed the thoughts and actions which connected him to the situation. The thoughts were simple self- instructions.
“Stay in the situation,”
“Make eye contact”
The thoughts like the steering wheel on the car, directed his actions. He monitored his body language, knowing that acting assertively would connect him with the situation.
Taking a risk
We sometimes believe that the “real person” is what lies behind the “mask”. The real person emerges in the network of relationships we find ourselves in.
Making connections is risky but the rewards of authentic communication are greater.