If you’ve ever had a conversation after which you’ve felt lighter, or an interaction after which your shoulders dropped, you know the power of connection is real. And if we connect a couple of dots, we see it’s something science confirms.
So what is that power that we can use to help others?
I understand there’s a risk of sounding arrogant in thinking we can “help” everyone and be agents of positive change in everyone’s lives (the very notion that people need help can already be questioned). Yet we inevitably have an effect on the people dear to us, someone we trust and have a rapport with.
What’s so fascinating – to me and I hope to you, too! – is how profound that influence can be and how science explains it.
To summarise it quickly, let me quote two people whose work you might want to check out if you haven’t yet.
Carl Rogers was an American psychologist and a true humanist who contributed a lot to the development of a client-centered approach in psychology, emphasising the importance and the healing power of supporting and accepting the client in psychotherapy. The term introduced by Rogers is unconditional positive regard: creating an empathetic and nonjudgement environment where people can feel accepted just as they are. According to Rogers, this is what is needed for our self-actualisation. This is a beautiful ground to start from and something that can really help in therapy.
“That’s all fine, but I’m not a therapist” you might think, pointing to an absence of an imaginary diploma.
The nicest thing here though is that we don’t need to be licensed psychotherapists to try to create this accepting and non-judgement environment for the ones around us. That is the choice we always have.
We can always choose to “meet people as they are” and be there for our loved ones — we just need to remember what’s needed to do that.
I will give some suggestions in a moment of how to do it, but first, let me introduce you to the second man who talks about this interpersonal power.
That is Bruce D. Perry, a psychiatrist, researcher, and childhood trauma expert. In his book What Happened to You? that he co-authored with Oprah, he talks about the neurobiology of trauma and what healing takes:
<…> You begin to see that a person’s “worldview” can change their immune system, and that a positive conversation with a friend can influence how a patient’s heart or lungs function that day. The interconnectedness becomes clear.
<…> Most importantly, you come to understand that belonging is biology, and disconnection destroys our health. Trauma is disconnecting, and that impacts every system in our body.
<…> Remember, the major tool you have in helping others change—whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, therapist, or friend—is you. Relationships are the currency of change.
“Relationships are the currency of change.”
How beautiful is this?
And how life-changing to know.
But so having this knowledge, what do we choose to do with it? And what are some of the frameworks we should keep in mind to make that currency even stronger?
I’d say, this is what we have to remember:
We can help others heal by holding space for people to be themselves. Our interactions are literally therapeutic.
We can learn to listen deeply to make people feel seen.
We can choose to respond with empathy and create a shame-free environment to make one feel at ease.
In short, we can give people what we ourselves would like to receive.
In a world of so much individual and collective trauma, not only can choose to create healing environments — we can be them for others.
Find a video on deep listening here.
Watch a video on how to respond to empathy – and what the obstacles to doing so are – here.
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