November 3, 2019—by Emma Shoaf. I recently had the privilege of witnessing Elton John perform his Farewell Tour in Memphis, Tennessee. It was an absolutely incredible show. If you have seen the movie released this year portraying his life, then you are aware of some of his deepest, darkest struggles with alcohol, drugs, abuse, trauma, etc. Elton John sings a song called Sad Songs (Say So Much), and I do believe he (and Bernie Taupin) was wise beyond his years.
In the therapy world, a phrase we often hear is, “We are hardwired for connection.” This is thanks to the growing popularity of attachment theory and the work of researchers like Brené Brown. And it’s so true! We are absolutely hardwired for connection. In fact, there was an experiment conducted in the 1950s that helped prove this idea.
Harry Harlow, a well-known psychologist, studied maternal deprivation in rhesus monkeys. Infant monkeys would be taken from their biological mothers and placed in a cage with wire and terrycloth “mothers.” He found that even when the milk was placed with the wire “mothers,” the infant monkeys sought comfort from the terrycloth “mothers” almost every time. This demonstrated that even more than food, what animals (and humans) crave is physical connection and attachment. A bond of some sort. It is absolutely necessary to our development and ability to survive. Without it, we begin to quite literally die from the inside out. Those monkeys would have rather held onto their soft and warm “mother” and starve than drink milk from a wire object which offered them no sense of security or connection.
Are we not created very much the same? We were made for deep connection with God [or a Higher Power] and other humans. You may have heard it said, “We are made for vertical and horizontal connection.” Both are necessary.
Elton John sings in Sad Songs, “Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain… cause from the lips of some old singer, we can share the troubles we already know.” He is referring to the very idea of connection. Have you ever turned on this song in the midst of a painful or lonely day/season and experienced a sense of shared connection in your struggle? You may begin to feel less alone when listening to this song or any song that speaks to you on a deeper level. Music is no doubt therapeutic, as it allows you to feel some sense of deeper connection. What one person experiences, so has another. Though in the midst of pain or struggle, it is so easy to forget this, and so often the worst part of a painful season is in fact the loneliness of the experience.
So how else might you begin to discover safe and secure connection? Maybe you first need to identify what area most requires your attention. Is it the vertical or horizontal that is most lacking in connection? It could be both, in which case you might find that once you begin to nourish one, the other begins to replenish itself. It might be helpful to picture yourself as a seed, which requires care in order to grow and thrive in any environment. You are a seed which needs cultivating, fertilizing, watering, and so much more. Like a seed, you cannot cultivate yourself. You require care from people and things outside of yourself in order to truly flourish.
Just as we learned through Harlow’s monkeys, growth and development are not possible without connection. And just as Elton John sings, “When all hope is gone, sad songs say so much.” The song might also read, “When all hope is gone, connection means so much.”