A couple of weeks ago I embraced a home project that involved doorknobs- lots of them, 20 to be exact. We moved into our new home a little over a year ago, and while there’s much that we love about it, the shiny brass doorknobs reminiscent of the ‘80s made it feel less new. I replaced every single one with satin nickel for a softer look. Over the 13 years that I have been a therapist, I’ve discovered that it’s important for me to have projects outside of work that are tangible and have a clear completion point. Doing the work of supporting people on their journey towards wholeness and healing is very satisfying for me, but I rarely see immediate results because well, we’re all human and change is hard. Most of the time ambivalence keep us from moving forward quickly. Therapy is usually a courageous journey of baby steps that can take several months if not years to accomplish. So sometimes I just want to look at something and say, “I did that, and it’s done!” Thus, the doorknob project.Sometimes my husband and I will work on home projects together, but with this one I felt compelled to tackle it all on my own. I got out my screwdriver and turned, and turned, and turned and turned it until my hand started cramping up near the end. Finally, I finished, with just a little assistance from my husband and 6-year-old son on the most stubborn screws. With this repetitive task, I couldn’t help but start to reflect upon the symbolism of doors and doorknobs. Doors are a respected boundary that divides and connects our outer and inner worlds. We feel safe and comfortable behind our closed, locked doors, and are willing to be more vulnerable with those inside. Once we step outside, we wear a mask to hide and protect those vulnerable parts of ourselves. We decide if we trust someone enough to let him in by turning the knob, and so it is with our hearts. Now I’ve got the Pete Townsend song from 1980 in my head, “Let My Love Open the Door,” (Townsend, 1980)! It’s a catchy ‘80s feel good song that speaks the truth about building trust to find love. Our hearts are vulnerable, and there’s always risk involved in building relationships because people are imperfect. But if we never take any calculated risk to let in those who have worked to earn our trust, then we suffer from loneliness and lack a sense of belonging.

Speaking of calculated risk, I’d be remiss to not talk about the impact of the pandemic. When instructed to stay home, safety and comfort turned into fear, isolation and depression. Furthermore, the figurative masks that we tend to wear outside our home became the literal required protection of our vulnerability to infection. Perhaps our doors have remained closed more this past year than any other year, and it’s worth examining the effects of that on our hearts. Those who suffered from social anxiety prior to the pandemic may have found comfort in being able to avoid challenging social situations. Unfortunately, avoidance only serves to intensify anxiety, and re-engaging with others becomes even more of a challenge. Without face-to-face connection, loneliness spreads like a cancer. According to local counselor and author, Chip Dodd, Ph.D., loneliness is one of the 8 core emotions. In his book, Voice of the Heart, each of these core emotions have a benefit and impairment, and the impairment of loneliness is apathy, (Dodd, 2015). Impairment is what happens when we don’t adequately feel our feelings or tell ourselves the truth about them. Therefore, if we try to numb or deny our loneliness, we’re prone to eventually become apathetic, and less motivated to do anything about it. On the other hand, if we have the courage to sit in our loneliness and acknowledge the pain, it can lead us to pursue intimacy and connection. This past year, we’ve had to be more creative about how we pursue relationships, but the gift of connection is worth the effort.

Just as our physical bodies require food and water to survive, our souls require relationship to be sustained. After almost a year of a pandemic, we are starving for life-giving connection. People can choose to deny their physical hunger, and maybe get to the point where they lose awareness of hunger signals, but that doesn’t change the fact that they will eventually die without food. In the same way, we may be able to deny our relational needs for a time and get to the point that we are numb, but that doesn’t change the fact that our mental and emotional wellbeing will deteriorate. One study suggests that a lack of social relationships has the same effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, (Holt-Lunstad, et al., 2010). While technology has absolutely been a great tool to help facilitate connection during a pandemic, after a while it’s kind of like getting peanut butter and crackers when you’re hungry for a steak dinner. It takes the edge off your hunger, but leaves you feeling not fully satisfied. There’s still uncertainty about how much longer we’ll need to keep physically distancing while relying heavily upon technology. I much prefer that term over social distancing because we can remain socially close with physical distance. With the rollout of the vaccine, there’s some hope that we could be moving towards socializing as we did before, but patience is still required. In the meantime, let’s not grow weary of using our creativity and taking calculated risks to build satisfying relationships. Even if our front doors continue to be opened only to a select few for a while longer, perhaps we can open the door of our hearts to give and receive love that can rise above even a pandemic.

1. Townsend, P. (1980). Let My Love Open the Door. On Empty Glass. Atco.
2. Dodd, C. (2015). Voice of the Heart: A call to full living 2nd ed. Sage Hill, LLC.
3. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Medicine, 2010; 7 (7): e1000316 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316



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