The Company We Keep

At times, it seems the company we keep defines our life.  It’s amazing to think just having the company to keep may save it too.
I was thinking about this as I read The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.  It quoted a study done back in the 40’s where more than a third of infants in group homes died before age 2.  It was not primarily from lack of nutrition or abuse.  The workers simply did not have the time to give the attention each kid needed.  That hug or kiss goodnight was and remains critical. 

Another point made just after that study was talking about how to predict the longer-term emotional health of kids who face trauma, and the author claims the best predictor is the number and quality of relationships in a child’s life.  I would not question this assumption in the slightest.  In fact, I would go a step further. 

I think this is likely true for adults dealing with trauma as well.  Yes, there is immediate family, but with adult trauma, I think there is an expectation the adults will find a way to deal with it while protecting their families from what we go through.  After all, who wants to whine to their spouse all the time?  Yes, they may know us, but how do we explain what is happening to us in ways they will understand, in ways that will not make them recoil from us (worst fears?)? 

Note, I include finding out about and dealing with serious health conditions as traumatic incidents or parts of life.  I know the mental challenges presented by finding out about my MS and some of my symptoms were certainly similar to what I experienced as a secondary survivor of sexual assaults or working on a suicide watch for a student on my hall as a resident assistant in college. 

When we are traumatized, we look to other groups going through the some of the same things.  We want to see how others overcame issues we now confront.   We want validation and acceptance instead of rejection.  We want to feel like we have something to offer the world even if it is only a set of ears or eyes to take in another’s account of their situation.    Many message boards and online communities fill that service for us, and for the secondary victims or families.  They are wonderful resources for those who cannot make it to meet people face to face to share.

Beyond just dealing with the crap so often associated with life, the people with whom we interact, matter to our psyche in so many ways.  They can make us feel better about ourselves simply by playing with us.  After all, it often in our play where we let our mind free of the binding with which we usually surround ourselves.  No longer encumbered, we just play.  About a month ago, my sister-in-law forwarded me this video, and it is a great reminder of why adults need to play too: 

(Click on next page for my conclussion and my best experience in a class on collaboration this week)


I think about all of these studies on how important it is to feel a sense of belonging, and I marvel that my daughter A could survive so many months in the hospital.  She had major heart surgery, a stroke, and got very sick in the months before we came in to her life.  Her survival is a miracle which goes beyond what’s written in her charts.  She didn’t even gain comfort from being held when she came home.  Then I think about my other kids and how nice it is for them to seek the reassurance of a hug or a snuggle time on the couch before bed.  I also think about the tradition of a kiss goodnight which can seem such a trivial thing except it’s not.  The reenforcement of emotional connection via a physical connection has long been known intuitively.  In the fourth chapter of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, the author presents a story of a girl dieing for lack of touch.  The lessen here is it is not enough to say “I love you” to our loved ones.  We have to show it in more tangible ways some times even if our MS or other symptoms of past traumas make it difficult.   

On the funny to me side, I attended a two day class on collaboration.  One of my favorite moments came on the last project.  We were instructed to break into two groups of 12 people and given a long, light tent pole.  We were told the tent pole had to be touched by the pointer finger of all 12 people at all times, and the goal is to lower it from shoulder height to the floor.  At first, we failed miserably.  The pole kept going up because even the slightest touch from 12 people was too much. 

Therefore, I asked the team to go down to just four people because I wanted to see if it was a problem of coordination or a problem with our solution.  Everyone agreed to try it, and the four people were able to do it.  Therefore, it was we.  At this point, the instructor said he had only had three other groups in his 12 years teaching the class able to do it.   

Then the other group in our class succeeded using a one, two, three, down approach.  Like good government workers, we tried to copy their success and failed.  The instructor then told us the previously successful had been military units used to working in time together.  For our rhythm-impaired group, prospects looked bleak with 5 minutes in challenge left.  When I thought of pointing our fingers down instead of angling them up, it helped, but not enough.  We were going to run out of time before we perfected out timing. 

Then a woman came up with a great solution for one person to put their finger on top and push down.  When we tried this approach, we finished in no time flat.  The instructor asked what made us think this would work since he had not seen a group come up with this answer before.  I told him,

“It seems only fitting for a class on collaboration to have a last task where the easiest solution involves a member of the group working directly against the rest of the group.”