Tribes. Villages. Families. Communities. The words can be interchangeable. Whichever word you use, the impact remains significant. If we want to grow we need others.
Human beings are wired for the community at a neuronal level. If our neurons don’t interact with other neurons they undergo a process called apoptosis, or neuron death. When they do interact they thrive and work together. Neurons that fire together, wire together and help to create neuronal pathways in our brain. Our experiences help to shape which neurons fire and wire together. In a way experience = biology. Experience shapes brain structure, brain structure influences brain function, and brain function shapes attachment, personality, emotional regulation and more. The community of neurons a person has in their brain literally shapes everything about them.
Like our neurons, we need community. It’s only in community that we’ll thrive. Consider how important community is from the beginning of our lives. As infants we’re completely helpless. We need parents to keep us alive. This isn’t just about milk and formula, though. Community is more than physical nourishment, it’s emotional and relational. Infants need touch to survive. Decades back, workers in orphanages were instructed not to touch the residing infants unless it couldn’t be avoided. The thinking here was limited touch would limit the transmission of disease and the infant death rate, fairly high at the time, would decrease. Babies were fed adequate amounts, changed, and given the opportunity to get the needed amount of sleep. What workers, and later researchers, observed was that infants still died. They discovered these young children needed touch to live. In our early lives so much contributes to the connection between mother and child (and fathers as well). Eye contact creates attachment, skin to skin contact while breastfeeding increases mood in mothers and helps to develop positive feelings toward the infant. Ever wonder why a babies head smells good seemingly all the time? Yeah, me too. Specialized scent glands secrete pheromones which make a baby’s perspiration pleasing to us. That’s crazy. It seems everything about our physiology points us towards attachment, connection and community.
These processes continue into adolescence and adulthood. The need never leaves. We don’t self-actualize above a need for attachment and community. In fact we tend to carry figures from our past and present around with us as mental models. Even when others aren’t present they’re with us internally. We become a constellation of our relationships, healthy and unhealthy. And these relationships change us whether we want them to or not. We become like who we spend time with. This is great news, really. It means if I want to be a healthier person, then I can surround myself with healthy people. Of course, it also means if I’m not paying attention to who I spend time with, I can also become more dysfunctional. Not all people are good for me. That doesn’t necessarily mean those people are bad people, but it means they’re not going to be internalized in a way which is helpful for me. They’re not someone I want in my constellation. I want people in my constellation who influence me (consciously and unconsciously), who will push me towards growth, health, and community.
Who are you spending time with? What do you want to cultivate in your life? Who do you know who can help you move towards those things? Who are some of the people in your constellation? You’re also in a relationship with yourself. It’s important to make that relationship healthy as well. How can your relationship with yourself be more healthy?