Open Letter – Learning to Connect

The following is part of an email thread between a client and myself.

I thought I would post it as there is value here for everyone feeling the effects of what I call “parenting anomalies”.



“Q: How can I fix my childhood neglect?

A: The problem is there is no one magic thing that anyone can say, that will immediately fix what you and so many others suffer from. It works like this. Humans are highly adaptive – we learn and compensate to survive our environment but it a long process. The traumas you experienced as a kid were prolonged and immersive. The process of rewiring your brain from that is also long and immersive, but absolutely attainable.

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In my experience, healing starts here:

As concisely as I can put it – you need to learn to be loved unconditionally – literally learn it from scratch. Self-love and receiving love, are essential components to human development and sustainability. Simply not optional.

If we are lucky, we get to learn this in early childhood by connecting with our caregivers. As early as infancy, social deprivation such as lack of warmth, eye contact, physical touch, and lack of encouragement leave can leave us with problems comprehending the value of human bonding later in life. Attempts to connect, or other’s attempts to connect with us can feel invasive, weird, irritating, scary, or even threatening. Which keeps reinforcing the false belief “I am broken” because legitimate connecting feels different than what we think it should be.

How do we learn to be loved? By repeatedly connecting with safe people while dropping expectations and conditions. Letting you guard down and leaning into that uncomfortable state of vulnerability and uncertainty when people want to connect with us. Taking in offers of warmth and validation.


Learn to love and be loved

Then appreciating that it feels correct, appropriate, and in turn conditioning yourself to be okay with it. Soon enough, as the irrefutable evidence builds you start to believe that – you are good, you are worthy, you are safe, you are valuable.

One of my favorite metaphors is that accurate validation, once learned to be accepted, manifests into self-worth – which is the glue that holds our identity together.

An obstacle is here – as it is for most everybody:

You can’t do it on your own terms, the way you think it should happen. Because to be blunt, you don’t know what you’re doing – you haven’t completely learned how.

These are your defenses struggling for control. You have had to tell yourself that taking emotional risk was only for pussies. Same old excuse used by countless individuals. Served you well in the past in order to survive, but no longer needed. No longer needed. No longer useful.

Here is the other obstacle:


Works very well in the short term for remedying the feelings of shame, or any feelings for that matter. It’s the only time we feel that we are winning.

In the insightful lyrics offered by Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” – “Sometimes I think it’s a shame. When I get feeling better, when I’m feeling no pain,”

But it’s a trap, a repeating cycle.

[Boozing >> guilt/shame >> efforts to quit >> emotional trigger >> anxiety/irritability >> boozing]

The emotional trigger can be attempts to connect with someone in a meaningful way.

My theory is that every-time we rinse our brains in booze, it seems to undo any therapeutic progress, and we are back to square one.

I see a ton of progress in our time together.

We have brought awareness to and mapped out what’s going on – that’s the first step. The other big shift I see – you are seeing yourself as an agent of change, rather than external factors.


Leaning to trust

I think you are actually starting to trust me – this can take time especially if you aren’t used to trusting anyone.

Things to work on: Pick the one that seems most workable.

  • We must “solve” your childhood trauma – it must be grieved for. It has to be expressed viscerally. Part of that is expressing anger at your parents for what they did/didn’t do to you. I think your feeling this intuitively now. If it can’t be addressed directly to your parents, then we need to write a letter to them which doesn’t have to be delivered. Or we chip away at in therapy as consistently as we can. Then we reframe that anger into compassion. It’s possible to be furious at them and have compassion for them. Both can be true at the same time.
  • Stop drinking when you get emotionally triggered. That’s the time to reach out to me or a friend that can help you process and communicate what you are feeling. We need to ride out those emotions and train your brain that it’s okay to feel stuff, that it doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s worked for us in the past right? We’ve been able to break that cycle before, a few times.
  • Keep trying to connect with people, that share your values, that make sense to you, exclusively. Be aware of when judgement or expectations arise but offer them no credibility – they are just thoughts that in the past, served to protect you from emotional risk. Let that old shit go.


I know sensible people are hard to find these days but do your best and don’t stop trying.”