Rat park was an experiment performed to show that with the proper connections (love, affection, and attachment) an individual with issues of substance abuse could remain sober. Basically, the idea is that in the proper environment, and with enough positive reinforcement and stimulus, an individual wouldn’t have the need to use substances.
I used to work with addicts. However, I am not here to write about addiction, getting off or on the wagon, nor rehab. I am here to talk about…
If you have a baby and He or she is deprived of connection, affection, security or love, there is a chance that the baby will have difficulty learning and integrating these emotions in their lives. If we think of nature vs. nurture and focus on the environment (nurture) than we see the pivotal role that the environment plays in an individual’s life.
Put a rat in cage, they’ll get bored. Put a human in a cage and confine them with little or no social interaction, they’ll get bored. Try sitting in a room without your phone and only the four walls, while you still have freedom, there’s a chance you’ll get bored. (Question: why do you need the phrase four walls?)
Put other rats in the cage, other humans in the cage and other humans in that small room, you won’t get bored, at least not right away. We need others in our lives to feel connected. To identify ourselves, sure it can come from introspection, but even then, to what do we measure ourselves to.
Granted, some people live off the grid, away from society and electronics in the hopes of finding some emotional stability in isolation. And I guess that works for them but here is an example of where connections at an early age are crucial:
I once saw a client who early on was in and out of foster care. His parents abandoned him. His biological siblings were taken away and his few foster families were ridden with horror stories. He never had the sense of belonging, attachment, or security. So, he grows up and finally as he begins to settle into his adult life he finds great difficulty with other humans. It causes him anxiety; he is always in survival mode and has trouble getting close to anyone.
The concept of connections is a theory as is its importance. But, the next time you are out, count how many people are on their phones. Originally, I wrote this article to discuss rat park but I believe it is more about the importance of finding connections away from social media. Sit with your feelings. Step away from a play form filled with a la carte emotions to choose from of what mask you want to wear. Or don’t. Either way, understand this:
If the opposite of addiction is connection,if the opposite of anxiety is confidence, if the opposite of depression is contentment, then perhaps we can benefit from looking at our own rat park for a second. Set boundaries in your life. Understand who and what you want in life. Find a real connection with another human. Living off the grid seems romantic at times, especially with what we see on t.v. but at least for me- I’d rather have a conversation with someone in person to share my ideas with, to be vulnerable, and to be loved.
By Noah Goldberg, RSWI, MSW