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Connection & Disconnection in Family Relationships

“We are never so vulnerable as when we love.” (Siegmund Freud)

Human beings are social creatures with an innate need for connection with others. It is as essential to our survival as our need for water, food, and shelter. 

We flourish when our connection with others is secured, and we suffer when this connection breaks apart. As Sue Johnson puts it, “having close ties with others is vital to every aspect of our health – mental, emotional, and physical” (Hold On Tight, p.23). In other words, a good gauge of our sense of happiness and fulfillment in our life depends on the quality of our relationships with others. 

The Need for Connection

The first relationship we have in our lives is the one with our mom, dad, or primary caregiver.* These family relationships shape our lives in ways we are not even conscious of. They can impact how we feel about ourselves, others, and the world around us. They even impact the way we raise our children. How could they not? Consciously or subconsciously, we try to replicate our positive experiences of childhood and do the opposite of our negative experiences. Like our parents did, and their parents did before them, we are just trying our best to give our children what they need and create strong family relationships.

Good Intentions 

I strongly believe that humans do the best they can with the experience and knowledge they have. So many factors influence our choices and actions, why we think and feel the way we feel, and how we respond to situations. But at the core, our parenting intentions are usually good, even when our methods and attempts are unsuccessful. 

Hidden behind our reactions to our children’s behaviours or actions lies a caring intention. We want to help them. We want them to do well. We want to protect them, see them be successful, and watch them thrive. 

Sometimes, we want this so badly that we get frustrated when our attempts don’t seem to be working. We don’t understand why our discipline methods aren’t working, feeling like increasing the volume of our voices will help us be heard, or that repeating the rules over and over again will eventually help our kids understand. So we tell them loudly and more often what we think they need to do because we are trying to fix the problem. We do this because we care. 

Connection as a Dance

When we see our children struggle, get angry at us, or push us away, we start hurting. As highlighted by Freud’s quote earlier in this blog, “We are never so vulnerable as when we love”. Since we are biologically wired to seek a safe and secure emotional connection with our loved ones, we get thrown into survival mode when that security is severed. This happens to children, but it also happens to parents too. 

At this point, we are looped into a type of dance that is out of control. Our dancers are no longer in sync, we step on each other’s feet, we lose balance and fall. Sometimes, we even decide not to dance together any longer. 

Parents, caregivers and children love each other but consistently misunderstand and misinterpret each other. Guardians feel frustrated, and inadequate, and start to believe they are failing. On the other hand, children feel misunderstood and alone with their emotions. They might start believing their parents don’t love them because they don’t recognize or understand the loving intentions behind their parents’ discipline. 

Family Therapy

When a family has become unbalanced and can no longer successfully reach one another, it is time to seek help. With the help and support of a therapist, families can restore balance and connection and work as a more cohesive unit. A good parent-child relationship is the best antidote for mental health issues in children and teens. This is why parental involvement in therapy is essential when aiming for long-term sustainable change. Parental involvement may be parent sessions, joint family sessions, or a mix of both, depending on a family’s specific needs. 

It’s never too late to make changes in your family relationships. At Searchlight Counselling, we are here for your whole family. 

*Please note that ‘parents’, ‘caregivers’ and ‘guardians’ are used interchangeably in this article, and refer to all types of caregivers including parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents and more. 

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Nicole Gfeller

Nicole is a child, teen and family therapist who specializes in Art and Play Therapies. She works to help empower parents and heal family relationships by creating an environment where everyone feels understood, heard, and cared for. Nicole is dedicated to helping your child or teen develop crucial emotional management skills and enhance their communication abilities. What you may not know about Nicole is that she is tri-lingual, speaking English, French and Spanish!

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Searchlight Counselling provides in-person and virtual therapy for individuals and couples in Burnaby, Vancouver, and across British Columbia. Specializing in BIPOC & 2SLGBTQIA+.