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  • Writer's pictureLiz Duerholt

Connection is Non-negotiable

Connection is not a weakness. Leaning on others, needing close relationships, needing people to love you is not a source of unhealthy dependency. Connection is non-negotiable.

Three years ago, I found myself in a room of professionals being told that I was no longer welcome to work with the young people in my program. I started as a volunteer, before being hired on as a staff, and I spent 4 years creating a highly successful program, one that engaged and empowered at-risk young people to find hope and a sense of purpose. I was being asked to leave because, in their eyes, I was coddling them. They thought I was being too nice. My sense of connection with them was considered a weakness.

Today, I am the founder of Redefin'd, and I work with young people from similar backgrounds; their struggles are the reality of disconnection. They have been neglected by parents, abused by family members, they’ve lived in poverty, been arrested, used drugs, experienced homeless. They are young people who have been managed by systems, paroled, labelled, shamed, diagnosed and medicated, but they have rarely if ever, been meaningfully connected with.

I can tell you from experience, that we are not going to heal disconnection with more disconnection. Tough love, crime and punishment, professional boundaries, blame and stigma are not solutions, they are causing more harm. If we want to solve the complex social problems we face today, we need to undo the trauma that comes with disconnection. If we want to see rehabilitation and support people to successfully re-integrate into society, we need to understand that the opposite of disconnection is connection - love, trust, kindness, belonging, purpose, meaning, non-judgement, engagement and empowerment.

Disconnection has a real impact. Recently, was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who has a long history in the mental health system, and she said something that has stayed with me, “I didn’t need one more professionalized relationship. I needed someone to care." Her transformation started with one kind woman who gave her a safe place to sleep at the end of her desk, a space that came with no expectations and no judgement.

A young person whom I interviewed during my research for Redefin’d told me, “We are commodities of a system, not people.” It's hard to hear these stories, but in sharing them I want to acknowledge where we are falling short.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of seeing disconnection as a root cause. In Canada, according to this CMHA report, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people; the report states that youth mental health treatment is the second highest cost to the Canadian Health Care system. If you do a quick google search on loneliness and social isolation, you’ll find articles and studies that demonstrate the significant health risks associated with our increasing disconnection.

Enough is enough. We know better. We need to do better.

Clients want to be seen as people. Patients want someone to care about them. People are in search of healing. These truths are our call to connection.

If we want to find solutions to the many social problems we face, we need to examine root causes; the urgency is real. Bruce Perry, of the ChildTrauma Academy says it perfectly in his book “The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook”:

Of course, medications can help relieve symptoms and talking to a therapist can be incredibly useful. But healing and recovery are impossible—even with the best medications and therapy in the world—without lasting, caring connections to others.

Healing is impossible without connection - that’s telling language. Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, the author of “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” confirms the same saying, “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”

There is no safety, without a meaningful connection.

It is imperative that we become invested in this work beyond the superficial, we have to enter into healing connections that are meaningful and genuine. Brene Brown defines connection as:

The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

I love her definition as it gives us a glimpse into the profound nurturing experience offered up by meaningful relationship. It is a healer. But, even in knowing this, we don’t seem to be very good at entering in, and for good reason - connection is scary. You have to be yourself, take risks, be vulnerable, be real, honest. Brene Brown can take you on a journey about why it upends us on the TED Stage.

For now, I want to combat our fear of connection with inspiration. This video from Simon Sinek changed the way I think about my relationships. He gets to the heart, he challenges us to be the same person in our intimate relationships as we are with our teams at work. I hope his insight will inspire you to action.

Connection is not the weakness, our fear of it is. It requires us to go inwards and be honest with ourselves about how we are willing to show up. It demands us to make decisions that prioritize kindness, trust, love, and the lives and well being of others, over what is normalized in today’s world. We have to be vulnerable, we have to choose courage - every single day. Simply put, we have to care about other people, we have to let them into our hearts. It will rarely be comfortable, or easy. Caring will give us courage to stand up at any cost.

Maya Angelou captures it perfectly, “The price is high. The reward is great.” The reward is courage so great that we will be empowered to redefine everything.

Liz Duerholt

Founder & Executive Director


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