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Disconnect and Deadening vs Staying connected
From , Quartet No. 4: Little Gidding by T S Eliot
"Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
The Connection-Disconnection Spectrum - Writer: Owen Robinson
What do I mean by disconnect? Let's go straight to some examples. When I disconnect from the painful emotion of having a terminally ill family member while I am giving a speech to a group of people I value my need to function well more than my need for vulnerability for a few minutes. I might however decide it is too painful to think about the family member after the speech too and I might distract myself for the rest of the day. I might feel so badly about the painful emotions the terminal illness brings up that I visit the person and ring the pateint less over the next few months. This is an understandable slide along a the spectrum of disconnect but it comes with consequences to relationship and to my own wholeness if I use this skill too often and get 'too good' at doing it.
When is disconnection at the 'ok' end of the spectrum then?
Well, imagine a paramedic freezing at a road crash site, for an extreme example. This is another example of how being strongly connected to painful emotion might be disabling at the moment action is needed. So temporary disconnect can be an asset.
If our mind did not have the capacity to disconnect from detail we might become overhwelmed; e.g imagine how overwhelming it might be if we couldn't help but notice the millions of colours and shades of colours in our envirnment all day every day. Some days people with tinitis (having ongoing high pitched sounds) can feel more easily overwhelmed about the ringing in their ears but normally they manage to not even notice it. Their attention is elsewhere. A person with nerve pain might be so engrossed in watching a movie they don't even notice the burning pain until the movie ends. Again their attention has been elsewhere so they disconnected from the pain. This is an example of using mindfulness to help us cope with pain in a healthy way; it is a form of healthy disconnection from a painful reality.
So, when is disconnection at the 'not ok' end of the spectrum?
A person sitting mute in a psych-ward not noticing their surroundings for most of the day and not responding to staff has used their ability to disconnect too well; it may be functional in some way to them as their environment or circumstances has somehow been able to trigger their mind's danger circuitry and 'disconnect' becomes their safe haven. Their shut-down is way too extreme. One consequence is that the staff have less information to use for forming a treatment plan. Another is the patient won't respond to visitors or family. There is usually some kind of cost when we employ disconnect as our self-protection strategy when there is no actual danger.
What if a person is now disconnecting when it is no longer helpful or functional for their relationships? One example might be when a person has been sexually hurt in their early years before meeting their marriage partner; the partner feels sad that their spouse tries to avoid sexual connection or when their partner is 'there-but-not-there' during the most intimate of moments. That very painful experience for their partner may generate such despair for the partner that they give up on the relationship if effective support or counselling is not found.
What if a person grew up and didn't feel safe in their relationship with their parent/s? Before the age of 11 months a baby is responding to feelings of safety from their right-brain (neuro-sceince tells us theor left brain is yet to become very active). But a baby can tell they are safe from a cuddle, snug clothing and wrapping, from responsive feeding, consistent positive attention as a parent enjoys their baby and makes fun noises; the baby discovers care is dependable when they cry, that nappy-needs will be met before it becomes uncomfortable, that "I am safe and you are safe: I can count on your care for me and turn up for me when I need you." Not every baby learns this becuase the adult may be overwhelmed by lack of readiness and skill to parent without support from someone with the skills; the parent might be overwhelmed by circumstances (e.g. grief from a loss; family violence keeps their danger circuitry over-riding their care circuitry; mental ill health prevents bonding with the baby). The baby can grow into an adult that has learned to distrust care and questions whether their partner's love is real; they learned very young to disconnect from love and trust. This disconnect might manifest in committment fears in adult relationships and might even sabotage close relationships, or result in serial close relationships that end in fear and distrust of a partner's care.
Imagine what happens if we stop believing vulnerability is a good thing ... but then because we see it's bad for us to do this we choose really well who to reveal our stuff to ...
We can be very creating about how we disconnect and shut down parts of our value system. Let's specualte what might happen if we devalue, reduce trust in, or give up on the following imporant qualities. What would a life be like if a person actually disconnected (dissociated) from the purpose, value and practice of each of these things:
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of praise/encouragemt -> become too focused on the negative; fault finding may become a harshly practiced skill; criticism and condemning may become justifiable and unquestioned in one's own mind; praise and encouraging others (or even one's self) may have little value in a person's life or relationships
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of gratitude -> a person may experience growing discontent, do lots of comparison to others or to a self-defined standard, and experience subsequent judgement of self or other as failing/substandard/a failure; loathing and hate for the absence or poverty of growth in self/another; despairing lack of improvement in others; depression/low mood/hopelessness may develop
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of stillness/rest -> may result in growing restlessness; busy-ness may seem the key; judge rest as laziness or selfishness or a waste
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of hope -> may become and remain afraid to hope; may stay distrustful of the future; may take a pessimistic view about the future, possibilities or opportunities; may write off self/others/relationship/future joy; may become prone to name-calling and global statements about others (s/he never/always etc) and prone to global thinking (e.g. 'it will always be like this'; 'it will never get better')
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of peace -> may become convinced attack is the most viable option; dedication to fierceness may become a praiseworthy value
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of unity -> may become convinced going it alone or seeking to divide something bigger than they can handle is smart
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of gentleness -> may become convinced toughening up is 'the' solution; that self protection is a higher form of wisdom than vulnerability and being real; may begin to believe in the survival of the fittest/the strongest
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of forgiveness -> may grow to believe bitterness is a right, that spite and vengeful attitudes/behaviours are seen as a strength or virtue or even as the best option; forgiveness may even remain incomprehensible or even be viewed as impossible; a grudge might be formed and/or a plan to get even may be mentally rehearsed or even played out
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of one's own value/esteem -> may distrust or invalidate compliments, encouragement, praise or evidence of what is good in oneself; May become depreciating or blind to worth of self and the value others have for the relationship; may dehumanise self; may generate distain towards one's self and the value people place on wanting to connect with them in relationships
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of sorrow -> may reach unbelief that I can cope if I allow myself to risk feeling hurt or sadness narrows the spectrum of emotion and I lose freedom to express joy, delight and other emotion at the other end of the emotional spectrum; may avoid any intense emotion
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of courage -> hypervigilence and anxiety may become esteemed as the smartest path; courage may be deemed foolhardy or even the wrong thing to pursue
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of ingenuity -> the belief may emerge that the 'new' cannot be trusted or relied on so I'll maintain the old way/habit; i.e. I stick to the familiar and this can bring on deadening of creativity; a threat mindset might make it seem justified to stifle the creative minds/ideas around us
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of influence -> may begin to distrust teaching or leadership and become independently focussed rarely looking to others for wisdom; often generates reduced teachability and resistance to insight
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of patience -> may become less willing to wait or sustain self-regulation of emotion and reaction while waiting; may demand more speed from self/others and take a hostile attitude if desired timing is not achieved
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of humility -> reduce willingness to acknowledge need; diminish readiness to take a view I might be wrong; lessen willingness to take responsibility to repair a relationship; become more prone to shift responsibility from self to others or to circumstances; become more likely to display self-righteousness; be more likely to minimise the scale of my own behaviour and magnify the scale of other's perceived errors; be more prone to self-justifying behaviour; grow an enlarged sense of self-importance; possibly even deny fault or deny my own behaviour
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of kindness -> cruel attitudes and actions become easier to justify; kindness can more easily be construed as weakness or lack of cleverness; harsh, abusing and controlling behaviours are more oflikelt to be chosen
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of goodness -> it becomes easier to judge good as naive and that the smart alternative is to deceive, trick and get away with what you can; it becomes laudable to get away with something and dumb to get caught
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of faithfulness -> dependability is judged as too much effort; the value of effort is questioned and put in doubt; it becomes harder to see the point of sticking to a commitment
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of self-control -> self restraint is abandoned more easily; self-regulation may be practiced but not routine (used or abandoned selectively); tantrums can be more easily justified and used purposefully; the use of aggression can become more attractive and become the objective in order to get what I demand as my right
Devalue, distrust, then deaden the importance of belief -> distrust can lead me to reject truth in an attempt to not get anything wrong, or to not be conned; accepting what we are shown becomes difficult after being hurt by deceit, outright lies or trickery; we might become inclined to disagree with anything we hear or to try to cut a person's views down with our powers of logic, or we simply don't listen; we immunise ourselves from belief in things that have value
Devalue and distrust the importance of love/closeness -> if trusting our closest people's care, intentions or support becomes hard (e.g. our parents) trusting any close relationship usually gets harder to sustain; the closest relationships may then be the most difficult, and it may become scary to maintain vulnerability or be real in our closest adult relationship; loving behaviours are sought and greatly desired and yet can end up being scrutinised, internally criticised and profoundly distrusted; anxiety or fear of not being able to count on love then succeeds in blocking closeness.
If you think about it, a sliding scale of disconnect can be imagined for any good thing. Disconnect can be gradual or sudden and it can happen in our first 2 years before we can even talk: it begins with doubt whether something good really is a good thing after all, and can end in outright rejection of that particular quality because we think the intensity of the risk to trust and believe in that thing feel too uncomfortable after previous hurt.
When disconnect happens suddenly, it is often from a knee-jerk decision we make to not risk feeling vulnerable and results in a rash vow to NEVER let that thing happen again in the heat of the moment of being hurt; e.g. 'I'll never let myself get hurt that way again;' 'I'll never tell anyone about that again;' I'll never let people get that close again.'
Fear of the intensity of a hurt is at the root of the choice to disconnect, numb or shut-down/deaden emotionally. The result is that a wall of self-protection is erected and that wall brings about lots of negative consequences for relationship, and trust.
I challenge you to spot your disconnects and re-decide whether the consequences are worth it. Imagine because you make a re-decision to start over that you begin to value, believe in and trust all that is good again. You can do it!
"So I pray you will receive the light to discern where your thinking moved away from the good that God intended for you; that you will receive life where you did know and where you didn't know you had deadened yourself to something of great value; and that you will receive the love that will cast out all fears behind the numbing and deadening. I pray you will be whole in Jesus name. Amen"
If you would like to try a prayer of your own you might consider something like this:
"God I didn't know I need your help to connect again with good things you want for me. You have permission to show me what I didn't-know-that-I-didn't-know so I can give those disconnections to you to mend. I welcome your light and life and love into my lack of comprehension, the fears they create and the deadening I did as a result. If I have to find them one at a time so I can give them to you to fix that's ok with me altough a bulk healing bundle would be welcome too. I claim this in Jesus name. Amen."
If you know you are not sure how to start over I invite you to wonder whether it is time to contact Owen (contact details to the right).