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Meeting the need for Emotional Connection

Written by Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education, Suffolk Mind.

Each month, at Quay Place & Suffolk Mind, we focus on an emotional or physical need which supports emotional wellbeing. This month it’s the need for emotional connection.

The need for emotional connection means having a relationship where we feel accepted by another person, in a way which lets us be ourselves without fear of being judged. We might describe this as being accepted ‘warts and all’ for who we are.

For some of us, this might be a relationship we have with a relative or partner. It can also be with the colleagues who share and understand the challenges of a stressful job.

Other people might meet their need for emotional connection through owning a pet – dogs can be very tolerant of their owner’s habits!

Why emotional connection is important.
Research shows that having a stable emotional connection in our lives supports emotional wellbeing. This is true when we are small children or young people navigating our way through adolescence – we all need an adult we can rely upon when faced with a life events we don’t know how to handle.

As adults, the need for emotional connection continues to play a key role in staying well. The loss of an emotional connection following bereavement can prevent a person moving on and establishing new relationships. Relationship breakdown and divorce presents the greatest risk factor for men who attempt suicide, the biggest killer of both young and middle-aged men.

Often, when our need for emotional connection is unmet we can find ourselves trying to control feelings of loneliness through comfort eating or chasing the buzz of emotional intensity instead. Chasing emotional intensity can take the form of addictions to alcohol or other drugs, excessive social media use, gambling, risky sexual encounters – even shopping for more pairs of shoes than we need!

What can we do to stay emotionally connected?
Relationship skills are the key to building new relationships and enriching the relationships we already have. Giving people attention by listening and asking them relevant and supportive questions lets them know in that they can be themselves when they are with you, and that you value the connection you share with them.

If you can’t afford to go out much to meet people, then make your home a place where friends feel warm and welcome and invite them round for tea or to share a meal – people rarely say no to food! Avoid the trap of chasing emotional intensity by remembering that healthy relationships are a balance between moments of excitement and quiet togetherness.