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Connectedness versus Closeness


Talking with a client about a session we’d had with her mom, I realized how often we use the terms “feel close” and “feel connected” nearly interchangeably when discussing relationships, especially those with family members. While the terms are both a felt sense, they’re not the same. Here are some examples to help you through the holidays.

Middle-age Nico is radically different from his family who are straight, highly religious, ultra-conservatives. He’s an out gay atheist and LGBTIQA+ activist. You might assume he’d steer clear of family and vice versa. But you’d be wrong. Way back in his teens, Nico knew he’d always be an outsider in his family, but felt connected to them because of their history: His parents brought him and his two brothers to the U.S. from Greece when he was a toddler and other relatives soon followed. His deep family connection is from shared homeland rituals, adoration of Greek food and music, and a love of playing or watching soccer. He knows he’ll never be close with his family but enjoys feeling connected to them (and they to him) through what brings them mutual joy.

Olive, 32, is very close with her mom and sister, partly because her father died when she was eleven, and they all pulled together to deal with his loss. Though she and her sister are 5 years apart, they’ve always had oodles in common and think remarkably alike. In spite of their deep feelings for each other, outsiders might think Olive isn’t close with her family because they live in western Canada and she lives in the eastern U.S. They see each other maybe once a year but email, phone and text, sharing the intimate details of their lives and their ups and downs. In fact, Olive has said she thinks of them only occasionally, but always with great fondness and much love and she misses them greatly. And when they’re together, they couldn’t be a more close-knit family.

If you’ve grown emotionally healthier than your family, you may miss the closeness you had when you were actually less healthy (say, drinking a lot). The only way that will change is if your relatives grow healthier or if you regress to your previous self. The best choice in this situation is to seek feeling connected rather than close by doing things together. Find activities you have in common rather than focusing on your differences. Go camping, to the movies or a ball game, shop for furniture, build a shed, or cook up a storm. These bonding experiences generate positive feelings toward each other.

It's fine not to be close with family members, but that doesn’t mean you need to be disconnected from them. Brief calls and visits or frequent texts and emails can make all of you enjoy a sense of belonging and connection that make family feel special.