In counseling, the mother of all interventions is meeting up. Getting together. Sitting down, face to face. By really arriving, here and now, willing to be near whatever is up, both the counselor and the coachee enable themselves to relate. To be present. Being seen, heard, acknowledged, especially regarding the stuff that is derailing, is vital if we want to grow. In life, however, …

… we employ strategies not to be seen, heard and acknowledged in what is causing us pain. The gatherings we have with Others are also far less scheduled than coaching sessions. Though gathering can be fun, exhilarating, energizing, it can also be draining, overwhelming and depressing. Whatever encounters offer us in terms for connecting, we actually use them quite a bit for disconnecting.

With the holiday season coming up, let’s pause for a minute and pay attention to our favorite styles in disconnecting.

With this post, I would like to invite you to open up a little and to become interested in:

  • why we all share the need for connection,
  • raising your awareness to your favorite styles of disconnecting,
  • and to turn your holiday season into an interesting event this time around, even if we are disconnecting

Chances are that no matter what you (don’t) have scheduled this upcoming season, the psychological pressure may be affecting you to a certain extent nonetheless.

The beauty of pressure is that it offers chances to get to know ourselves a little bit better. With this kind of knowledge, we enable ourselves to grow, both personally and professionally. Knowledge enables us to let go of automatic inclinations. The more we allow ourselves to start observing, choosing and then acting, the more we can part with automatic re-acting, i.e. unfree behavior.

Why do we need to connect?

Feeling connection is one of the most important needs alive, Wibe Veenbaas et. al. explain in Passe-partout, the(ir) handbook for schooling counsellors. The entry on ‘contact’ in this book, is extremely helpful and insightful. Following their observations, we get to see that without connection, without being in touch with Others, we cannot grow and develop.

Seeking to connect is one of the first things we do in every meeting we have.

At a deep level it is also one of the most vulnerable things we do, and therefore one of the scariest of undertakings.

Issuing motions of reaching out to the Other can remain unrequited or answered in a way you do not experience as nurturing.

Contact, in other words, is fundamentally necessary in order to exist. Without contact, we do not survive. This starts early in life in the form of being held, being touched, skin-on-skin connecting with your primary caretakers. The need for physical contact remains throughout our lives, and evolves in the need to be valued, acknowledged and the nurturing exchange with significant Others.

When do we disconnect?

Porcupine (Stekelvarken)

When our attempts to get in touch remain unanswered, the kind of connection that is offered is not nurturing, or worse, what is offered is hurtful, we develop structures to arm ourselves against contact injuries.

Oyster (Oester)

There are different styles. What these styles have in common is that they help us to disconnect.

It takes all sorts…

Hare (Haas)

Once you get a feel for how people isolate themselves, you can usually spot this kind of isolating behavior far more easily in Others, than in yourself.

Chameleon (Kameleon)

Now the idea is – and please, let this sink in – to raise the level of empathy. Writing about these styles is not meant as ammunition for the forthcoming festive gatherings. Quite the contrary: I hope that it will help you feel empathy for the ones behaving like ostriches, oysters, doves and chameleons.

Lawping (Kieviet)

Lawpings (in Dutch: kievieten) may be the most challenging to detect, because: why wouldn’t the Other be very interested in you, right? Feeling empathy for howling monkeys and porcupines may be kind of tricky. Nobody likes being yelled at, and nobody likes defensiveness in the Other.

Howling monkey (Brulaap)

So, whatever you detect: remember to empathize. And if you find yourself judging their behavior. No worries: just observe, and do not judge the judging. Just try and remember that connecting is both fundamentally necessary and incredibly scary, for all of us.

Observe, choose, act

Dove (Duif)

In our daily lives, we usually operate according to ‘ready, shoot, aim’-behavior. We, more often than not, re-act. We are in a conversation and feel affected by what is being said, and we automatically respond.

Ostrich (Struisvogel)

Especially, in times when the psychological pressure is on, we have less bearing capacity for trying situations. If we remember that our families, in broader sense the people we grew up with, are our most trying social situation, simply because they matter most and they are a bond for life (if you are in touch, or if you are not in touch with your family), please remember to remind yourself to slow down. Start observing, contemplating what you feel and what you need, then start choosing what would really enrich your day and then start acting accordingly.

Friendly reminder: acting could also be consciously not-acting.

And if the situation turns out to be undoable and unbearable, please feel this as an opportunity to get to know your favorite styles of isolating. Raise your awareness to your specific and idiosyncratic ways of disconnecting.

Whatever you do, whether you connect or disconnect, or both: take loving care of yourself.

I am wishing you a wonderful holiday season! An opportunity to slow down and get in touch with yourself.


Source: Wibe Veenbaas et. al. (2019) Passe-partout. Vensters op leren. Kaders (Phoenix Opleidingen Utrecht)

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