Social Connectedness During the Pandemic
What did the past year teach you about your supports?
Social support is defined as the positive help provided by family, friends, groups, and/or communities. It is an important area to reflect upon when feeling isolated or alone as it can fulfill our emotional, tangible, informational, and/or social needs. When emotional support is given, it may include listening to problems, validating feelings, and showing empathy.
Tangible help assists with fulfilling issues related to practical needs and problems. When our tangible needs are met, we feel less stress and anxiety about meeting our basic needs to care for ourselves and family.
Community supports most often can provide informational support by offering advice or information to overcome or solve a problem or challenge. During the past year, community supports were vital for helping people stay connected and informed.
Social needs include our basic wants for love, belonging and connectedness. When we experience these, we experience an increase in a feeling of security and contentment. Social relationships are important to living a successful life and that providing a listening ear goes a long way to the promotion of a person’s well-being (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020, p. 627). Through this past year did you find a friendship that helped you through this unusual time in our lives?
From the moment our life begins, we are part of a relationship, which begins with our loved ones, our family. According to Erik Erickson and his psychosocial theory, the quality of life from beginning to end is touched by its social interactions. These social interactions form our attachments to people in our lives. Individuals who have had a secure attachment often find themselves paired with another secure individual (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020, p. 472). A child’s attachment can change in childhood due to disruptions in family life; however, by adulthood attachment should be stable (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020, p 474). When a secure attachment is not happening for individuals, it may be necessary for the person to seek counseling to better understand past attachment and family of origin dynamics. If adulthood attachment is not stable, can therapeutic interventions help insecure individuals find success in relationships? Yes, through restructuring negative patterns of behavior (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020, p. 475).
I think it is helpful to know that insecure attachments can lead to earned secure, which is when an individual gains perspective on less-than-optimal early experiences through the help of a secure spouse or partner (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020, p. 465). Thus, our social supports can aid in healing past negative attachments.
Individuals can come to terms with their difficult past in a realistic, truthful way which can be a source of strength and resilience.
Personally, my childhood was less than optimal but through other caring adults and close friends I was able to work through my attachment issues. Attachment theory and understanding the impact of early childhood relationships on later relationships is important.
Positive relationships keep people well and offer long term protective factors (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020, p. 629). Many individuals feel a greater sense of mastery and self-efficacy due to their contributions to a group of their peers/people. Productive engagement either through paid work or volunteer ship is linked to these feelings as well (Broderick, & Blewitt, 2020, p. 627).
The benefits of social supports include but is not limited to:
improved physical health
greater resilience to stress
feeling of security
improved mental well-being
greater life satisfaction
When thinking about your social supports a question that may come to mind is how do you build social support? One way is to attend to the important existing relationships in your life even when you are the busiest. Some examples of ways to do this could be sending a simple hello in a text or email, send a card or postcard, and try to connect over the phone. Any small way to let your loved one know you were thinking of them can be very helpful to strengthen that relationship. By nurturing those important existing relationships this communicates that you would like to stay connected. If trying to reconnect especially after this past year, it may take time and you may need to practice patience as every person is at a different stage of re-entering social connectedness.
Another way to build social support is to increase your community involvement through volunteering, religious groups, or extracurricular groups such as a running group, hobby group, etc. These groups are a way to meet like-minded people and build a new support system. The new support system can lead to building new friendships and open you up to new experiences. In addition, extracurricular groups which focus on physical activity is an important way to slow or reduce cognitive aging (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020, p. 627).
Social supports can help us through times of difficulty, transitions, and loss. Thus, attending support groups is a way for you to meet others who are dealing with similar problems or life experiences. By expressing and sharing your story and providing support to others, this is a way to increase self-esteem and self-worth. The positive feeling created from being heard and needed aids in our expansion of self-efficacy adds to our life satisfaction. The use of professional supports such as doctors, therapists, and social workers can help you solve issues that may be too complicated for your support system to assist. It is important to note that seeking professional help to work on issues is a sign of strength and a show of courage.
When considering who are the people, groups, or communities that provide you with social support it is important to think about the following:
How does each support help you?
How could this social support better help you?
When you think about barriers that may prevent you from fully utilizing each of your supports, what thoughts come to mind?
Once you have had time to think about these barriers, can they be removed, changed in some way?
Steps to take to better utilize your supports could include being honest with your feelings, staying in the here and now, and articulating what your needs are in a clear way. Recognizing, nurturing, and maintaining social supports is a lifelong process which requires patience and understanding.
Broderick, P. & Blewitt, P. (2020). The life span: human development for helping professionals
(5th ed.). Pearson.