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Needing Each Other

A New York Times article on human communication and touch contained a sentence which caught my eye. Although the article was about how positively people respond to touch, what grabbed my interest was more general—about why we need each other and relationships in the first place. One more reason to reach out and touch someone.

Here’s what psychologist James A. Coan from the University of Virginia says: “We think that humans build relationships precisely…to distribute problem solving across brains. We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.” Hardwired to share the load—that’s a powerful statement which makes complete sense. When we problem solve with others, we multiply our chances of finding a solution. More brains, more brain-storming, more potential for varying solutions, and more likelihood that one of them will lead to success.

Of course, the above quote is about physical touch, but I can’t see why the theory about shared problem-solving leading to survival would be any less applicable to verbal or emotional communication. When we talk to others, we climb outside of ourselves and often get a totally different (and new) perspective. Let’s face it, our inner worlds are pretty narrow and biased—full of inaccuracies and distorted perspectives. Sometimes we even get our facts wrong about our own histories.

I know from the experience of running groups for 30-plus years that sharing problems is key to improving mental health. It feels good to unburden and to receive validation from others who can relate to what we’ve experienced. More than that, sharing multiplies the chance that we will come up with better solutions to our problems. That doesn’t mean that someone will necessarily give us a piece of advice that will turn us around one-two-three. Rather, that sharing clears our head and hearing what others have to say can shift our thinking. Sometimes the process is gradual and other times we have a eureka moment that causes us to view a problem differently and discover a solution that didn’t seem possible—or even there—before.

If you didn’t grow up in a family in which problem-solving was shared and you had to go it alone, the idea of voicing your vulnerabilities may seem foreign and scary. To recover from food problems, however, you will have to learn to open up. Sharing is an essential life skill which will not only help you in figuring out how to have a better relationship with food and your body, but in solving your other major and minor problems as well.