“I wish I had no feelings!” I was lying at home in my teenage room thinking about the girl I was in love with. My feelings of love were unanswered and I felt like the loneliest boy in the world. If I didn’t have any feelings, I wouldn’t have to suffer as I did. At that very moment, I would happily replace all feelings of joy without hesitation, if I only could escape the agony I was suffering.
Today, I see this desire for numbness as a desperate attempt to deal with the lack of closeness I experienced. As a young teenage boy, I had hardly any physical closeness. I guess I thought I was too old to be close to my mother. I imagine a more or less unconscious fear of being seen as gay kept me away from being close to my male friends. And closeness to girls was something that only existed in my fantasy.
My first association when I think of closeness is physical closeness. We are probably all aware of the terrifying experiments with rhesus monkeys. Rhesus infants had their real mothers replaced by surrogate mothers made out of steel wire and fur. The steel-wired ones had bottled milk and the fur surrogates had no milk. The monkeys preferred to be with the figures dressed in fur even though the others provided nutrients. I guess we would see the same pattern in humans.
We are herd animals and to thrive we need to socialize with and be close to other people. Although we have built societies where we manage to survive without being physically close to one another, our brains are wired for close connection. When we are physically close to others, our feel-good hormones: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin are released. We feel good and thrive.
At the same time, closeness is not only about physical contact. I believe that an equally important ingredient in closeness is emotional closeness. That we experience closeness to each other on the non-physical plane. Although many people during the pandemic and the restrictions were physically isolated, I believe that people who experienced emotional closeness were more protected from illness.
Loneliness and social isolation increase the risks of becoming ill and dying from many different kinds of diseases – everything from heart disease to dementia and depression. The risk of premature death when we lack closeness is comparable to smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. It’s truly a need that, if not met, has devastating effects on our quality of life.
The support of needs awareness
Knowledge of NVC and needs is very helpful in our experience of closeness. An important ingredient in physical closeness is of course removing barriers between us. To be physically close, we need to bridge both distance and physical obstacles. Being in the same space with or without body connection is obviously supportive.
When it comes to emotional closeness, it is facilitated by the fact that we have the ability to both “give and receive” what is alive in us. Our language – both verbal and bodily – is very helpful. If we manage to create a common language, the words we use will help us get closer to each other. Here, words that describe feelings and needs are very supportive.
Closeness to myself
The need for closeness is not only connected to other people. Just like in contact with others, I can get closer or further away from myself depending on which kind of language I use. If I use all the ways Marshall Rosenberg describes as barriers to contact – such as judgments, comparisons and denial of responsibility – I’m cutting myself off from myself.
If I instead cultivate closeness to myself, I’m coming closer to my essence. Instead of believing my judgments or repressing them, I can use them as clues to what’s important to me. Here, once again, the basic practice of NVC is a great support. By making contact with my feelings and connecting them to my needs – satisfied or not – I create relationship and closeness to myself. This closeness to myself will also help me in my closeness to others. When I’m aware of what is going on inside of me, I have a greater hint of what is going on in others.
How do you cultivate the need for closeness in your life?
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Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)
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On 6 December at 19:00-19:45 CET, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Cara Crisler. We will talk about the need for closeness.
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