Skills for Bonding
Learning to bond won’t happen overnight. Making human connections takes a good dose of grace, truth and time. Here are some skills that will start you on the long road to making changes that heal.
Realize the Need
A careful reading of the Bible will show the value God places on connection. Paul uses the image of the body to make this point: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I Corinthians 12:27) We are part of a body, and we cannot be emotionally amputated from the blood flow and expect to thrive. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” (I Corinthians 12:21, 26)
Move Toward Others
It is wonderful when others move toward you and seek out your heart, like God does. Often, though, others cannot see what you need and how emotionally isolated you really are. Therefore, to the best of your ability, actively reach out for help and support.
You can move toward others, get socially involved, and have relationships, but still be isolated. Your isolation may stem from your inability to be open, your inability to show your real self to others. Learn to be vulnerable. The word vulnerable literally means “open to criticism or attack.” You need to be so open with your needs that you are open to attack.
Realization of need is the beginning of growth. Humility and vulnerability are absolutely necessary for bonding to take place at a deep level.
Being vulnerable at a social level may be too threatening at first. Maybe you need to start with a pastor, counselor, or support group. But vulnerability is a skill that opens up the heart for love to take root. When you can admit that you need support and help, and can reveal your hurt and isolation, a dynamic is set into motion that can literally transform your personality and life.
Challenge Distorted Thinking
Distorted thinking blocks you from relating to others. This essentially causes you to repeat what happened in the past. Challenge the distortions that keep you in bondage. To the extent that you continue to see the world through your childhood eyeglasses, your past will be your future.
If you don’t, for example, challenge the belief that “all people will leave me,” you will never form an abiding attachment, and you will recreate the isolation of your past. The Lord has promised to reveal the truth to you. Ask him to show you your particular distortions. Distorted thinking was learned in the context of relationship, and that is the only place where it can be unlearned. You need new relationship to undo the learning of the past; there your real self can be connected in grace and truth and thereby be transformed.
To learn new relational skills and the way of attachment, take risks. Listen to Jesus’ invitation: “‘Here am I! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.’” (Revelation 3:20) You have a responsibility to hear the voice and open the door. People and God will call to you, but if your distorted thinking and your resistance to risk get in the way, you will keep the door closed so that attachment cannot happen. Allow yourself to risk valuing someone emotionally. Risk getting hurt again. This is difficult, but essential.
Allow Dependent Feelings
Whenever you begin to allow someone to matter to your isolated heart, uncomfortable needy and dependent feelings will surface. These are the beginnings of a softening heart. Though uncomfortable, these feelings are a key to attachment. Many times you think you need to “keep a stiff upper lip,” but allowing your tender, needy sides to show to the ones you need will cement the attachment and allow it to grow.
Recognize your own particular defenses against attachment. As soon as you can spot the old familiar patterns, you can begin to notice them in operation and take responsibility for them. You may need to say something life this, “Oh, there I go again, devaluing someone who is trying to love me. I’ll try and let them matter this time.” Challenge your old ways of acting and allow the Holy Spirit to empower you to resist your defenses.
Become Comfortable with Anger
Often, people avoid attachment because they fear their anger at the one whom they need and love. As a result, anger leads them into isolation to protect the loved one. It is natural to feel angry toward people you need. The more you can feel comfortable with angry feelings toward “good” people, the more you can integrate those feelings into the relationship and not spoil it. The angry self is an aspect of personhood that many people prefer to leave “un-bonded.” They believe that it is the unlovable aspect of who they are.
Pray and Meditate
In Psalm 139:23-24, David asked God to reveal who he was at a deep level: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Pray David’s prayer along with him, and God will reveal the true state of being in your heart. Ask God to unravel the problems in your ability to attach. Abiding is God’s highest value for you so you can be assured of His desire to help you reach this goal. As David says in Psalm 51:6, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
Empathy is the ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings. Empathizing with others’ needs, identifying with their hurt, softens your own heart. Many hardened people have melted by getting close to the hurts of others. I’m not implying a “give-to-get” or a “get-your-mind-off-yourself” strategy. I’m talking about identifying with the struggler in order to get in touch with your own hurt and loneliness.
Rely on the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit empowers you to change and to come out from the bondage of your old ways of being. Ask him to free you from the death grip your defenses have on you and to give you the courage to take the first steps to attach to others.
Every time you find yourself at this crossroad, at the place where you can either respond defensively in an old pattern or risk the new, ask for help. You can’t do it alone. When you come face to face with your inability to bond, you must confess this inability and ask the Spirit to help you. You can’t change on your own. Rely on him to help you make the changes that heal.
Say “Yes” to Life
The task of bonding to others and God is one of saying, “yes” to life. It is saying, “yes” to God’s and others’ invitation to connect with them. People who struggle with isolation say “no” to relationship in many ways.
When you hide behind defense mechanisms, you are saying “no.” When you avoid intimacy, you are saying “no.” When you make excuses, you are saying “no.” Connection requires that you begin to say “yes” to love when it presents itself. This may mean accepting invitations to be with people instead of always withdrawing. It may mean giving a different answer in safe contexts when you are asked, “How are you doing?” It may mean empathizing with another’s hurt. Whatever the opportunity it means saying, “yes” to relationship.
From Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud; Zondervan, 1990, 1992.
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