I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is to be in the same room with a person in distress. Maybe it’s a kid who cries over confusing homework instructions. Or a friend who can’t decide whether they want to break up with their partner. Perhaps it’s a spouse who feels overworked and overlooked at their job. As a therapist, for me it’s often a person who feels anxious or depressed and wants to feel better as quickly as possible.
Washington, DC is full of oldest children. This is no surprise, as “oldests” usually value power and responsibility. They are also more independent. In therapy, they tell me stories about younger siblings who just can’t get it together. They resent the time, money, and attention a brother or sister has leeched from their parents. They get tired of playing mediator during family squabbles, or solo caretaker when parents grow old.
You don’t have to be an oldest child to wonder how people who grew up in the same family can be so different from each other. But siblings aren’t born into the same families, nor do they grow up in the same family. You may have lived in the same house for many years, but each of you experienced a very different family.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the skill of self-regulation. This is because I have a baby, a wide-eyed, mini-scientist, watching me 12 hours a day. Is this new person scary? Is this medicine no big deal? Should I be concerned that I bonked my head with this toy? My body language and voice have a huge influence over my daughter’s reactions.
For a long time, it will be my job to calm her down when she’s distressed. But this comforting will be ineffective if I can’t stay calm when she’s upset. I don’t want her to have a mom with a fear-based relationship with the world. This is challenging when there’s plenty to fear. SIDS! Choking! Sodium! Climate change! Freaking measles.
This weekend I had the privilege of attending the Bowen Center’s annual Symposium. The main presenter was Dr. Thomas Seeley, a biology professor at Cornell who studies the phenomenon of swarm intelligence in honey bees.
Dr. Seeley gave a presentation about how honeybees solve the dilemma of finding a new home. Bee scouts will individually visit a potential location, and when they return, they will perform a “waggle dance” for the others which communicates the distance and direction of the prospective site. The level of enthusiasm in their dance also indicates just how sweet the spot is. Over time, in true democratic form, the bees will keep voting via waggle dancing until there is a consensus on the new home.
Connecting with others is generally a good thing when it comes to our health and well-being. But can the same be said for our virtual interactions? The answer is a qualified “maybe,” according to psychologists and other experts who have studied the issue.
There’s evidence that the ability to connect with others via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media platforms, as well as text messages, can help strengthen social ties and keep us more attuned to our mental and physical health. But there’s also evidence that such interactions stifle human connectivity, lower our self-esteem, make us feel lonely and isolated, and just plain stress us out, says Emily Weinstein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who studies the effects of social media on young adults. “It’s both.”
As a counselor, I have a front-row seat for watching anxiety develop in new relationships. It is truly fascinating to observe how quickly two people can become emotionally stuck together. A therapy client will leave for a week and return reporting that he or she has started dating someone new. This former stranger now has the power to make my client very happy or very anxious. Thanks to their phone, my client might spend all day analyzing a text they received — or worrying about the lack of one.