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Are Polyamorous Relationships The New Normal?

There is no one way to make a relationship succeed. Similarly, there is no one correct format for a romantic relationship. Over the past few centuries in the Judeo-Christian West, the norm has been the heteronormative relationship. Basically, this is a marriage between one man and one woman. This model is often held as the blueprint for a modern, moral, effective relationship. Even same-sex marriages, only recently legalized, generally stick to a monogamous model. However, alternative relationship types have made their case as being equivalent, rather than better or worse. Polyamorous relationships are perhaps the most popular example.

More and more people are becoming open to relationships that are not limited to two people, that follow a different set of rules, and that are not proscribed by a societal definition. The psychological world is becoming more attuned to the needs of people in polyamorous relationships and those who identify themselves as polyamorous may wish to see a therapist who specializes in polyamory.

What are Polyamorous Relationships?

Polyamory is an umbrella term for consensual non-monogamous relationships. Polyamorous relationships do not follow the rules or expectations of monogamy.

Polyamory Definition

Polyamory refers to the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved. There is no specific definition of how a polyamorous relationship should look. To give you an idea, it generally involves a rejection of monogamy, a capacity for loving more than one person, and an extraordinary ability to overcome jealousy.

Polyamory vs Monogamy

There are some fundamental differences between polyamory and monogamy.

In a monogamous relationship, extramarital sex is prohibited. In fact, a monogamous partner may even see emotional investment in another person as infidelity. Members of polyamorous relationships, on the other hand, are at the least open to sex with other people and multiple relationships are totally acceptable. Some polyamorous relationships simply allow for it, while others go as far as to encourage it.

Furthermore, a monogamous relationship is by definition between two people only. In strong contrast to this, polyamorous relationships are generally made up of three or more people.

Polyamorous Relationships: What It’s Not

There are many misconceptions about polyamorous relationships. This is in part due to the fact that the term is only loosely defined. It is an umbrella term, rather than a specific description of any one type of relationship.

People often confuse the following types of relationships with polyamory.

Polygamy vs Polyamory

Polygamy describes a relationship in which one member has multiple spouses. Polygamous relationships, in general, are between one man and multiple wives. Polygamy tends to have a more religious basis. It follows the example that was set by many Old Testament prophets such as Abraham, David and Solomon. In Judeo-Christian law, a man is allowed to have multiple wives, while a woman can only be married to one man.

In the United States, polygamy is generally only practiced by members of the Mormon faith. Although common law marriage to more than one person is illegal.

Polyamory, on the other hand, refers to relationships between two or more people of any gender. It is not defined by marriage and commonly has nothing to do with religion. While polygamists tend to have hierarchies concerning the man and his various wives, members of polyamorous relationships are all viewed as equals.

Open Relationships

Polyamorous relationships are not the same as open relationships. Even though, technically, open relationships can fall under the umbrella term of polyamory.

Open relationships refer to relationships between two people, who stipulate that sex with people outside the relationship is permitted (with certain boundaries in place). Open relationships are actually quite similar to monogamous relationships. While sex with other people is allowed, emotional intimacy is often limited to the couple.

Polyamory mainly refers to an openness towards redefining the traditional relationship. Open relationships, on the other hand, are more like variations of the traditional monogamous relationship.

Human Capacity for Love

At the heart of polyamory is the idea that humans have a capacity for love that need not be limited to one person. The concept of a soulmate is rejected. On the contrary, as part of the polyamorous lifestyle; one person can have feelings of passion, romance, and sexual love towards multiple people at the same time.

The idea that love has to be limited to one romantic relationship is seen as outdated and having more to do with jealousy than actual connection. In a polyamorous relationship, members can love other people, without their partner(s) feeling threatened.

Polyamorous Relationships

The Healthy Habits of Polyamorous Relationships

Many monogamous couples resonate with the ideas espoused by polyamory, even if they are not willing to engage in anything but a monogamous relationship in their own lifeFor this reason, healthy habits that come through in polyamorous relationships can be useful for monogamous people as well.

Defining the Relationship

People in polyamorous relationships cannot assume the rules of their courtship in the way that monogamous couples can. They, therefore, have to actively engage in defining the relationship. These people communicate openly about what they need from each other, what they want from the relationship, and what they will and will not accept.

This habit is healthy for any type of relationship. No-one can know what another person needs from them without discussing it first. Many relationship troubles come from one or more partners in a relationship not getting what they need when they have never explored or expressed what that may be. Defining the relationship helps to get things off to a good start, with two or more people who know how to support each other.

Making Room for Individuality

A common relationship-killer is the need people feel to subsume, or be subsumed by, each other. In other words, two halves are said to become a whole and their lives end up meaning little on their own. This leaves no space for individual meaning and individual pursuits.

Polyamorous relationships, on the other hand, celebrate individuality. There is ample room for two or more complete people, rather than two “half people.” Without the possessiveness or jealousy that is commonly seen in monogamous relationships, outside interests do not threaten the relationship. Members of polyamorous relationships can feel more fulfillment in their personal lives and careers, knowing that they do not need to dilute them for anyone else.

Relationship Scheduling

Polyamorous relationships, in which each individual has multiple partners, require a lot more scheduling than traditional relationships. People need to work out when to see each other, enjoy a romantic evening, have sex, have big conversations, and so on.

This can seem exhausting to monogamous individuals. However, relationship scheduling can actually be very healthy. It prevents relationships from hitting a plateau. Letting things go unsaid, forgetting about maintaining the relationship, and endlessly postponing growth.

All relationships can benefit from scheduled dates, scheduled time to sit down and talk, scheduled sexual exploration, and so on. This does not mean everything should be scheduled or that spontaneity is bad. However, when we don’t consciously make time for growth, good intentions tend to become forgotten.

Discussing the State of the Relationship

When polyamorous people define the relationship, they are not setting rules that need to be kept for the rest of their lives. Rather, they are noting their needs and wants at that moment in time, and defining the best possible relationship to meet those needs and wants. When things change, so should the definition of the relationship.

Because there are no hard and fast rules, polyamorous people need to discuss the state of the relationship. Without doing so, life becomes confusing and unmanageable. Whereas monogamous relationships can more easily revert to the status quo when something happens, polyamorous relationships need active engagement.

People in all types of relationships should be open to discussing the state of their relationship on a regular basis.

Overcoming Jealousy

Feelings of jealousy have destroyed too many relationships to count over the course of human existence. When one partner is suspicious of another and becomes jealous of their interests, friends, or family; their possessiveness can cause rifts in the relationship. Jealous people push each other away by trying to hold on too tightly. Resentment builds and partners start to feel stifled.

People who practice polyamory have to be ready to challenge their jealousy and to try and overcome it. They have to recognize from the get-go that a partner does not belong to them. They can love the person and be loved by the person without exclusivity.

Whether you agree with polyamorous relationship structures or not, everyone can benefit from this approach to jealousy.

When Polyamory Goes Wrong

Polyamory is far from perfect. It is more of a framework than a blueprint for a relationship and people can, therefore, come to a relationship with conflicting ideas of how to be together. If they do not communicate these ideas properly at the beginning, cracks may begin to show later on.

No one is completely immune to jealousy, and some will not manage it as well as others do. Also, some people are naturally better at communicating than others. It is a learned skill for many people, including those who identify themselves as polyamorous.

How to Find a Therapist

Relationship therapy can benefit people in polyamorous relationships greatly. Ideally, they should seek support from a therapist familiar with seeing non-monogamous people. Therapists with no experience in exploring the topic of polyamory may not know how to counsel people in polyamorous relationships. They will most likely have studied the inner workings of monogamous relationships and how people in those types of relationships respond to life. While they can definitely learn about polyamory, you may feel more at home with someone who already has the experience. It will also save you from feeling like you have to educate your therapist about polyamory.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Any licensed mental health professional (LMHP) who you see should be fully certified by the relevant boards. They should have thousands of hours of experience practicing therapy and have a good reputation among fellow professionals and their clients.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

Ask a potential therapist if they have experience working with polyamorous people and relationships. Feel free to discuss how they feel about the subject. Try to get to know them in order to make sure whether they’re the right fit for you.

Find a Therapist Now!

You can find therapists who specialize in all areas of psychology, including polyamorous relationships, on ThriveTalk. ThriveTalk works hard to match you up with the best in online therapy so you do not have to be in close proximity to a therapist in order to see them. Also, you can choose the perfect therapist, rather than settling for whoever happens to be the most convenient to see.

The psychological world is still working on understanding polyamorous relationships. While monogamy has been the main focus of psychological thinking until now, there is much to be discovered about non-monogamous relationships and their benefits. Finding a therapist who has experience with polyamorous relationships is ideal if you are looking to work on yourself and your relationship.

Cultivating Compassion: Tips for Developing This Life-Changing Skill

In a world where adversity and misfortune can often cause suffering, compassion is what drives us to lend a helping hand or offer emotional support. From spiritual leaders to healthcare professionals, almost everyone can agree that cultivating compassion can have benefits for the body and mind.

But cultivating compassion can be difficult when you aren’t in contact with your inner self. In fact, it’s impossible to be compassionate with a friend or colleague in need, without exercising self-compassion first.

The Definition of Compassion

To understand and cultivate compassion, let’s start to learn about human suffering and about why embracing it is (paradoxically) the secret to a happier life.

Psychology of Human Suffering

Whether we like it or not, life is full of ups and downs. Our existence is sprinkled with different experiences and emotions. We can cherish the moments when we celebrate spectacular achievements and we can despair about the dark times when we feel like we’ve lost all hope.

No matter how much you try to control every little aspect of your day-to-day life, there’s just no way around adversity and suffering.

The only way to maintain your sanity is through self-compassion which builds the resilience you need to keep on hustling through thick and thin.

Compassion vs. Empathy

A lot of people think that compassion and empathy are the same things. And who could blame them? Both words convey similar emotions and they are both commonly attributed to situations characterized by sadness and mourning. In cases like these, people generally use empathy or compassion in an effort to identify with a particular individual (or group) who has been affected by a tragedy.

But while these two words have relatively similar meanings, there are some notable differences between being compassionate and being empathetic. While empathy conveys feelings of sympathy or sorrow towards someone, compassion helps us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and share their emotions. Compassion also, generally, includes the desire to help.

To a certain extent, empathy and compassion are overlapping concepts in the sense that you can express them separately and simultaneously.

Achieving True Happiness

Whether compassion and empathy are separate concepts or two sides of the same coin, one thing is certain: both contribute to our overall sense of happiness. This is something that humankind has witnessed ever since the dawn of civilization.

In fact, various religious movements have emphasized the role of compassion in building a unified society where individuals can thrive and achieve happiness.

From an evolutionary standpoint, compassion is a highly useful psychological mechanism as it motivates members of a group to support each other and grow as a community.

The Importance of Compassion in Relationships

Who better to receive your compassion than the person you love and cherish the most?

Cultivating compassion in your relationship builds mutual trust. It also creates an environment where both partners feel safe and supported. In other words, letting your partner know that he/she has someone to share the burden during tough times will strengthen your relationship.

However, keep in mind that compassion contributes to the health of your relationship only when both partners manifest it. Otherwise, one partner ends up giving more than the other and that can lead to tension in the relationship.

Does Compassion Come Naturally to Everyone?

It seems like we need to call on the “nature vs. nurture” debate.

Instinctive Awareness

Since compassion is a complex phenomenon, no one really knows for sure whether human beings have this mechanism coded in their brains.

In a way, we could argue that humans are instinctively driven to recognize the suffering of their kin and that they somehow know about providing support in times of need. Since this mechanism was (and still is) highly adaptive, it makes sense for humans to possess innate abilities that allow them to manifest compassion.

At the same time, humans can learn compassion from their day-to-day interactions as a socially desirable behavior.

Developing the Skill

Regardless of whether compassion does or doesn’t have inborn features, one thing’s sure: You can always learn how to cultivate compassion towards yourself and towards others.

Cultivating Compassion

Cultivating Compassion: 7 Tips to Follow

Here are some tips on how to develop compassion that will help you become a healthier, happier human.

Start With Yourself

Before you can show compassion to someone in need, first you need to develop self-compassion.

According to a recent article published in Self and Identity, self-compassion is a complex phenomenon characterized by kindness, reduced self-judgment, decreased isolation, and a mindful attitude towards yourself.

This basically means that a kind, mindful, and non-judgmental attitude towards yourself can cultivate compassion and it can heal your emotional wounds.

Be Present In Every Situation

There are times when we become so caught up in our lives that we forget about the pain and suffering of the people around us.

If you wish to be more compassionate towards others, start by living in the “here and now.” That way, you will develop the presence and awareness you need to understand the problems of others.

Learn to Listen

Listening is one of the most crucial features of compassion. It’s almost impossible to resonate with someone’s problems if you can’t even pay attention to his/her story.

When a friend, colleague, or family member is opening up to you; make sure that he/she has your undivided attention. Otherwise, you will be yet another person who doesn’t understand what he/she is going through.

Make an effort to really listen to what the other person has to say and compassion will flow naturally.

Practice Self-Control

When someone is dealing with a problem, we sometimes tend to offer solutions or unsolicited personal opinions. We tend to overlook their emotional needs and, instead, focus on a more practical approach.

But while an insightful piece of advice is often the rational way to go, keep in mind that it might not be what the other person needs at that point in time.

Compassion is about understanding other people’s pain. The way to achieve this is by exercising control over our own needs and wants and prioritizing theirs.

Embrace Forgiveness

Cultivating compassion involves finding the courage to forgive yourself and others. Without forgiveness, you will forever struggle with the internal conflict generated by the “bad” things you hold yourself (or someone else) responsible for. As a result, you won’t be able to realize that anger and frustration won’t get you anywhere.

If you wish to cultivate compassion, make peace with your past and find the courage to forgive others as well.

Try Compassion Meditation

Did you know that meditation is a powerful tool that you can use to cultivate compassion?

There’s even a specific form of meditation dedicated to developing this attitude and it’s called “compassion meditation”. In a nutshell; it involves developing care, connection, and understanding by repeating phrases like: “May I be free of guilt and shame” or “May I be empathetic and caring.” You can even create your own messages.

A recent study, published in PLOS ONE, revealed that people who practice compassion meditation for prolonged periods could even rewire the areas of the brain that are responsible for emotions.

So find a comfortable position, close your eyes, think about someone you care about (you can even choose yourself) and repeat the messages.

Become Someone People Can Look Up To

Aside from kindness, empathy, and understanding; compassion also involves wisdom. You could say that you need to be emotionally mature enough to put the other person’s feelings first.

This is the kind of attitude that results from being the “bigger man” and learning to forgive others for their mistakes. It’s the kind of mentality that grows stronger the more we focus on self-awareness and personal growth.

Add good listening skills to everything mentioned above, and you have a person that people can look up to. A person who can cultivate compassion and contribute to their own well-being and the well-being of those around them.

Why is Compassion Good For You?

Cultivating compassion can greatly benefit your mind and your mental health.

Benefits For Your Mind

As you’ve probably figured out by now, cultivating compassion creates a win-win situation. Both you and other people can benefit from something that improves your overall health and well-being.

A 2016 study, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, revealed that self-compassion has a positive effect on physical health as well. When we are compassionate towards ourselves, we feel motivated to engage in health-promoting behaviors that keep our bodies and minds in great shape.

In short, compassion can be the driving force behind a happier and healthier lifestyle.

The Importance of Compassion For Mental Health

Ask any expert in the field and he or she will tell you that social support plays a crucial role in mental health and one key aspect of social support is compassion. Having someone there who’s emotionally available and understands your pain can significantly improve your depressed or anxious mood.

One recent article, published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, highlights the crucial role of compassion in healthcare practices. The way in which patients experience compassion can help experts develop new strategies to improve the quality of healthcare services.

Compassion Can Change Your Life!

Compassion means letting life simply take its course. People can suffer, celebrate, be happy, or get depressed. Your purpose isn’t to change them but to accept them just the way they are and to guide them towards introspection.

Cultivate compassion and enjoy a happier, more fulfilling life!

 

References

  1. E. Seppala, “The Compassionate Mind,” Association for Psychologicl Science, 30 April 2013. [Online]. Available: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-compassionate-mind.
  2. K. Bluth and K. D. Neff, “New frontiers in understanding the benefits of self-compassion,” Self and Identity, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 605-608, 2018.
  3. A. Lutz, J. Brefczynski-Lewis, T. Johnstone and R. J. Davidson, “Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise,” PLOS ONE, vol. 3, no. 3, 2008.
  4. S. Dunne, D. Sheffield and J. Chilcot, “To understand and cultivate compassion, let’s start with human suffering and why embracing it is (paradoxically) the secret to a happier life.,” Journal of Health Psychology, vol. 23, no. 7, 2016.
  5. S. Sinclair, S. McClement, S. Riffin-Bouchal, T. F. Hack, N. A. Hagen, S. McConnell and H. M. Chochinov, “Compassion in Health Care: An Empirical Model,” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 193-203, 2016.

Skills For Managing Conflict In A Healthy Relationship

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, and romantic relationships are no exception. You and your partner come from different contexts and both have triggers and defenses that neither of you may be aware of. Whether you’re just starting a relationship, or whether you have been living together for years, conflicts will continue to arise. Managing conflict effectively is, therefore, key for maintaining a healthy relationship.

What is Conflict?

Conflict refers to any tension between you and your partner arising from differences or disagreements, whether small or large. Conflict may be present even if there is not an outright fight or even a discussion. Some people respond to conflict with passive aggression, or they attempt to suppress it entirely. Acknowledging the problem is essential for managing conflict in a healthy way.

What Causes Conflict in a Relationship?

Conflict arises in a relationship for a number of reasons. At times, it may be the result of a difference in values or principles. Other times, it arises when you do not know what your partner needs or when you or your partner fail to effectively express your needs. This may lead to feelings of neglect or feelings of not being understood.

Conflict can also result from external tensions. When one person has had a hard day at work, they may take their frustrations out on their partner without being aware of it.

While conflict can lead to rifts and break-ups, in healthy relationships it can lead to increased understanding. You will learn most about your partner when engaged in conflict if you listen carefully to each other.

The Negative Effects of Conflict

Conflict can have negative effects both on the relationship and on the individuals involved. People who have a hard time managing conflicts are likely to either blow the conflict out of proportion or let it fester until it seems insurmountable. When it is left unresolved, conflict tends to lead to even more conflict.

Many people also suffer from stress when they are in conflict with their partners. They may struggle to focus on other priorities and this leads to poor performance at work and problems in relationships with colleagues, friends or family.

Conflict can even affect your health and cause you physical pain. Effectively managing conflict is therefore crucial for your own good and the good of the relationship.

Managing Conflict

There are certain prerequisites for effective conflict management. Take the following 3 fundamental points into account.

Quick Stress Relief

Anyone involved in a conflict inevitably feels a certain amount of stress. This stress is what leads people to either blow up or withdraw, as they are unable to stay present and view the situation objectively.

Quick stress relief is therefore crucial to constructive communication. Taking deep breaths is one of the simplest ways to relieve some of the stress, but it is just one tool. Other methods include checking in with your bodily sensations and anchoring yourself with objective facts. Learning to relieve stress is much easier done before it becomes urgent. Building your stress relief skills will make a huge difference in your life in general, as well as in the context of conflict.

Emotional Awareness

If you are able to relieve some of your stress, you will find it much easier to become aware of the emotions you are experiencing. During conflict, emotions generally present as anger. However, anger is not a primary emotion; but rather a reaction to hurt, shame, and other emotions. Allow yourself to feel the anger, but do not neglect the emotion behind the anger. When you express yourself to your partner, focus on the primary emotion, because that’s what is at the source of the conflict.

Nonverbal Communication

During a conflict, much of the communication occurs non-verbally. Your facial expressions and body language will often express what you are really feeling, even if you are saying the opposite. Be aware of what your body is saying and try to soften the expression if anger is all that is coming through. Try to be consciously aware of your partner’s body language, rather than letting your subconscious automatically interpret it.

Conflict Resolution Styles

Everyone has their own conflict resolution style. For some people, this is dependent mostly on what they’ve learnt throughout their lives from their parents and other people in their lives. Those who have actively sought to improve their conflict resolution style will have far greater success at managing conflict effectively.

Constructive Engagement

Couples who engage in constructive engagement discuss the issues without getting overly-emotional or saying hurtful things. They focus on resolving their issues in a way that improves the relationship.

Destructive Engagement

Couples who engage in destructive engagement lose focus of what is really important and instead blame and hurt each other. They know how to push each other’s buttons and bring up conflicts that were left unresolved in the past.

Conflict avoidance

When couples try to avoid conflict, or when one partner refuses to actively engage, conflicts remain unresolved and continue to cause tension and create further problems.

Managing Conflict

9 Ways To Manage Conflict In a Healthy Relationship

Effective conflict resolution techniques are crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship. Remember that you should not be fighting against your partner, but rather confronting the problem together with them. These 9 tools will help you turn conflict into constructive engagement.

Speak Your Mind and Be Direct

When you tiptoe around the issue, you can end up arguing about secondary matters or irrelevant facts. Rather speak your mind and be direct. This does not mean you should say the first thing you think of, but you should express what is on your mind in a constructive way.

Avoid Blaming

To ensure that you are expressing yourself constructively, avoid blaming your partner. Remember, it is more important to grow as a couple than to be “right.” Conflict is not anyone’s fault and blaming almost always leads to hurt feelings and further conflict.

Don’t Use Words Like Never or Always

When you use words like never or always, you imply that you have a problem with your partner, rather than with something they may have done. If you have a problem with something they do (or don’t do) regularly, expressing what you feel now is more important than making them aware they are repeatedly “in the wrong.”

Pick Your Battles

Many issues may come up during a conflict. A conflict about finances, for example, can often bring up further disagreements about how you feel about each other’s families (who inevitably shaped the way each of you approach money). Try to remain focused on the main source of the conflict rather than getting caught in the nitty-gritty of everything that comes up.

Try Not To Get Over-Emotional

It is important to express your emotions, but it is also necessary to keep those emotions in check. Allow yourself to feel them, but if they begin to overwhelm you, your responses will undoubtedly be based on emotion rather than what is helpful. Use stress relief techniques, as mentioned above, to stay present and avoid letting the emotions take over.

Steer Clear of Negativity

When engaged in conflict, one tends to see everything negative about the relationship. Your mind may begin to draw up a list of all that is wrong and you might even start to doubt the relationship entirely. After all, you might think that if so much is faulty, maybe you didn’t belong together in the first place.

Steer clear of this type of negativity. When taken out of context, the negative seems far greater than it actually is. Issues that are relatively minor in the context of your healthy relationship can seem insurmountable. Put these thoughts aside for when you are more emotionally grounded and focus, instead, on resolving the current issue.

Listen and Try Understanding

It is difficult to listen and to remain understanding during a conflict, but it is essential for managing conflict in an effective way. When your mind goes off finding proofs that you are right and your partner is wrong, bring it back and try to hear what they are saying. Try to interpret it in a kind, forgiving way; hearing what is really bothering them rather than focusing on how what they are saying bothers you.

Be Open to Forgiveness

Even if they have wronged you, be open to forgiveness. Without forgiveness, conflict cannot be fully resolved. Yes, they may have hurt you, but if it is in the context of a loving relationship in which they recognize your needs; forgiveness will allow you both to grow and move on.

Make “Resolving Conflict” the Priority

Always keep in mind that resolving the conflict is the priority. You don’t need to prove that you are right and that they are wrong. It is not you against them, but you and them against the problem.

Knowing When To Let Things Go

Conflict avoidance is generally not recommended. However, sometimes letting things go is key to managing conflict in a relationship. When your partner is stressed about work or family, they may project their frustration onto you. Try to acknowledge when the real issue has nothing to do with you, rather than trying to get to the heart of it through discussion or argument.

If they keep snapping and it is really bothering you, acknowledge aloud that you understand they are under stress and that you are there for them, instead of berating them for being unkind.

Managing conflict effectively is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship. Without conflict, you will not learn about what really makes your partner tick; and by working through it constructively, you can grow as a couple.

Start Building a Strong Support System

Ever since the dawn of civilization, humans have always relied on one another during times of crisis. Our ability to support each other and grow as a community is what helped us to survive and thrive in a world where weakness and vulnerability meant certain death. The world has certainly become a lot safer than it used to be. However, we still need a robust support system if we wish to overcome difficulties and enjoy a stress-free life. In fact, many healthcare professionals believe that social support plays a crucial role in physical and mental health. It can speed up recovery, cultivate hope and improve patients’ overall sense of well-being.

What is a Social Support System?

A social support system represents an essential factor in maintaining physical, mental and affective balance which are often threatened by adversity. It’s kind of difficult to enjoy a pleasant, stress-free life in the absence of social support; let alone achieve personal and professional growth.

A study that was published in Epidemiology & Community Health in 2016 revealed that social support is a predictor of better mental health. Researchers have also discovered that the negative aspects of social relationships may lead to poor mental health.

Aside from contributing to our overall mental health, social support presents plenty of other benefits as well. Your close friends or family members could (for instance) help you find a better job, deal with a tough breakup or even lend you some money when you’re behind on your bills.

The Importance of a Strong Support Group

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second. No matter how careful we are and no matter how much we prepare, we simply can’t avoid every adversity that life throws down our path.

That’s why having people around who love and care about us can be a real blessing. We’ve all been there. Down in the dumps, feeling like you’ve hit rock bottom. Social support is what gives you the “push” you need to overcome life’s adversities and regain control of the situation.

For teenagers and adolescents, support systems are especially important. Close support groups (comprised of family members or friends) can create the perfect climate for personal, academic or professional growth. This type of group can also act as a buffer against all sorts of difficulties in life.

A 2016 study, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, concluded that perceived social support and mental health often go hand in hand. More specifically; it indicated that adolescents with a history of bullying victimization find it easier to cope with anxiety and adjust to college, if they receive support from their families.

The evidence that supports a strong link between support systems and mental health is quite overwhelming. For instance, a study that was published in Social Science & Medicine, specifically evaluated social support for employed and unemployed individuals. This study shed a little light on some interesting findings. It indicated that when we’re dealing with unemployment, social support may actually serve as a protective measure against mental health issues.

Types of Social Support

Let’s take a closer look the main benefits of social support systems.

Emotional Support

One of the key areas where support systems prove to be the most useful is mental health. Problems like stress, depression and anxiety can impact some of the crucial aspects of your everyday life.

It’s difficult to enjoy a satisfying romantic relationship or work on your big dreams when you are under serious emotional distress. For that reason, emotional support represents a definitive factor in both health and success.

A recent article in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, discussed the relationship between support systems and depression. The authors suggested that high-quality social connections with friends and family members was associated with a reduced likelihood of depression in the past year.

There’s no shame in asking for help when your life has taken a turn for the worse. You can always find someone who is willing to lend a helping hand or empathetic ear. It is, however, important that you’re open to letting others be there for you.

Practical Help

When you are dealing with stress and adversity, finding practical solutions to overcome your problems may prove to be extremely difficult. It’s hard to put aside your unpleasant emotions and approach challenges or obstacles with a clear head.

Furthermore, being entirely absorbed by your perceptions could be preventing you from finding original solutions. In times like these, friends or family members can offer an outside perspective. This will allow you to see the problem from a different angle, which could help you to come up with alternative solutions.

A social support system creates the ideal climate for people to share opinions, exchange ideas and tackle challenges as a group. When you are dealing with a tough situation, you need as much input as you can get.

Informational Support

Life has taught us that knowledge is power and that information is the key to any problem. No matter how challenging it may seem.

Being part of a close social support system grants you access to more than one perspective from which you can approach a difficult situation. You can receive constructive feedback, valuable information and practical tips on how to overcome anything that’s preventing you from living a fulfilling life.

Remember, it was through collaboration that our ancestors managed to survive and build a thriving civilization. Regardless of the challenges and dilemmas you may be facing right now, there’s always someone who can offer you insightful answers. All you need to do is ask and be prepared to listen.

Support System

Support System: Benefits for Psychological Health

Let’s explore the ways in which a strong support system could benefit your psychological health.

Decision-Making Process

There are times when difficult situations and personal struggles can affect your judgment and limit your ability to make smart decisions. Problems like anxiety or stress can have a direct impact on your decision-making and the results can quickly turn against you. That’s when you need someone with a fresh opinion who can help you adopt a new perspective. Someone who can guide you towards making decisions that are not influenced by your own mental filters.

If you feel like you’re in a dark place, it would perhaps be wiser to consult with someone you trust before making any big decisions. Making decisions in this state could result in severe consequences for your well-being and personal growth.

Coping With Stress

The studies that were mentioned earlier have clearly shown that social support is one of the key ingredients in the development of robust mental health.

When it comes to everyday stress, having someone who understands your struggles can be extremely therapeutic. In fact, if you are lucky enough to have a reliable support system you are less likely to struggle with everyday stress. Moreover, you also have a smaller chance of developing more serious problems like depression and anxiety disorders. This is not because you are somehow sheltered from life’s hassles but, instead, because you’re surrounded by people who can cheer you up and make life a bit easier for you.

Motivation

It’s virtually impossible to achieve the life you’ve always dreamed of without having the motivation to keep on hustling through thick and thin. This is where friends, family members or life partners come into play. The people who love and appreciate you the most can be your biggest fans. Not just when things are going great for you but also when life has knocked you down.

In the end, we all need someone to cheer for us and have faith in our endeavors.

Things To Consider Before Joining a Social Support Network

Before joining a social support network, make sure the people that are part of the group can:

  • Be empathetic and emotionally available
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Refrain from criticism and negative remarks
  • Be assertive

5 Ways To Build Your Social Support System

Building your social support group is not always an easy task. Let’s have a look at ways in which building a successful support system can be made a bit simpler.

Really Get To Know The People Around You

A social support system can be made up of virtually anyone. This may include family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers or even people from online support groups. Don’t miss out on really getting to know some of the people who are already part of your life. Take the time to know them better. These are most likely the people who are going to be there for you when the going gets tough.

Seek Out Peer Support

Seeking out peer support is one of the best ways in which you can receive authentic support. No one understands you better than the people with whom you spend most of your time. They are the ones who really know you and they can offer you authentic emotional support along with useful tips. Sometimes, a classmate or coworker can be more supportive and empathetic than a close friend or family member.

Take Advantage of Technology

Nowadays, there are plenty of online support groups where you can find like-minded people who resonate with your struggles; people who’ve been through the same struggles as you. You can look for Facebook groups, chat rooms or forums where people share their stories, exchange ideas and support each other emotionally. The internet opens the door to unlimited possibilities. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

Follow Your Interests

You may be dealing with difficult things in your life right now. Regardless of this, it’s important to stick to your path and never stop following your interests. Sooner or later you will meet like-minded people who share your vision and who wish to contribute to your dream. All you need to do is share, be open-minded, ask for feedback and be open to letting others help you achieve the things you want to achieve.

Expand Your Social Network

The more people you meet, the bigger your chances are of finding someone who can guide and support you. Expanding your social network is all about interacting with others, listening to their stories, understanding their struggles and creating an emotional bond with them. As a result, people will return the favor by providing you with the support you need to live a joyous and satisfying life.

Keep in mind that this strategy works just like a two-way street. In other words, if you want others to be supportive you should also be prepared to return the favor. That’s how social systems evolve.

The Power of Social Support

No matter how smart and adaptable we think we are, life will always find a way to prove us wrong. When that happens, being part of a group that can support you (financially, emotionally or in whatever way) is what will keep you afloat.

Forget about being an island. Focus on building a strong social support system and you will always have someone who is ready to lend you a helping hand when the going gets tough.

 

References:

  1. C. Hakulinen, L. Pulkki-Råback, M. Jokela, J. E. Ferrie, A.-M. Aalto, M. Virtanen, M. Kivimäki, J. Vahtera and M. Elovainio, “Structural and functional aspects of social support as predictors of mental and physical health trajectories: Whitehall II cohort study,” Epidemiology & Community Health, vol. 70, pp. 710-715, 2016.
  2. G. M. Reid, M. K. Holt, C. E. Bowman, D. L. Espelage and J. Greif Green, “Perceived Social Support and Mental Health among First-Year College Students with Histories of Bullying Victimization,” Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 25, no. 11, p. 3331–3341, 2016.
  3. A. Milner, L. Krnjacki, P. Butterworth and A. D. LaMontagne, “The role of social support in protecting mental health when employed and unemployed: A longitudinal fixed-effects analysis using 12 annual waves of the HILDA cohort,” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 153, pp. 20-26, 2016.
  4. A. Werner-Seidler, M. H. Afzali, C. Chapman, M. Sunderland and T. Slade, “The relationship between social support networks and depression in the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, vol. 52, no. 12, p. 1463–1473, 2017.

Finding Your Tribe: Your True Connections Are Out There!

These days we seem to be busier than ever before. In-between climbing the corporate ladder, finding your life passion, doing your laundry and staying on top of your emails; how are you supposed to have time to develop a healthy social network? This article provides some insight into what “finding your tribe” means and how you can get started today.

Finding Your Tribe: What Does It Mean?

When we speak about a “tribe”, we’re referring to a group of people who share similar interests and offer support to one another. In the modern sense, your tribe comprises of the people you choose to connect with. This may include your family, friends or colleagues; and the list goes on. Thus, finding your tribe means finding the people you feel comfortable around, the people you can talk to about your daily triumphs and struggles. Ultimately, finding your tribe means finding a connection between yourself and the people around you (whoever they may be).

Why Do We Need Friends?

Humans need connection. It’s that simple! The drive to seek out social connections is literally hard-wired into our brains. This need for connection likely started with our ancestors, as a way to remain safe while roaming the lands or needing to withstand harsh weather conditions. Despite this fact, it has developed into something else in contemporary times.

Today, we may not depend on each other as much for basic survival, but the deep need for connection is still there. Research has shown that it is just as important as following a healthy diet and lifestyle. Nevertheless, social connection is often undervalued. Ultimately, social connection is related to increased physical and psychological well-being. In other words, it forms a vital part of living a fulfilled life. In fact, social connection can lower depression rates, improve self-esteem and even play a role in immune functioning.

So, why do we need friends? Because friends provide us with this social connection and companionship. Helping us to truly thrive in our environment and live life to the fullest.

Challenges of Finding Your Tribe in Adulthood

In preschool, sharing a toy with a fellow classmate may lead to an exciting new friendship. When you go to school, sharing a classroom with other people of your age allows for easy opportunities to make new friends. Unfortunately, in adulthood it’s not quite that simple.

As adults, we have past preconceptions and busy lifestyles that may hinder us from developing the connections we want and need. Additionally, venturing into adult life may cause us to become disconnected from previous friendships and support systems. For instance, parents and siblings. Because of the busy lifestyle that comes along with adulthood; we have less time and space in our lives to build up and maintain healthy friendships. Things like moving out, having a job, shopping and cleaning all form part of being an adult. However, there are great opportunities for finding your tribe as an adult. It may just require a little more effort from your side!

Connecting With Like-Minded People

We live in an extremely diverse world. There are endless beliefs, identities and interests with which people align themselves. This makes it both easy and difficult to find people with whom you can truly connect. Being in a social situation where you feel like nobody understands you is certainly uncomfortable. If you think about it, no-one wants to be at a party where all the conversations are about things that they’re not interested in or don’t understand. This is all linked to one relatively simple solution. You need to connect with people who are similar to you and with whom you are compatible.

Basically, to find your tribe, you need to actively seek out people who have interests and beliefs that are similar to yours. Connecting with like-minded people not only makes social situations more enjoyable for you, but for them too. Which creates a positive feedback loop all around.

It might seem tricky to find people with whom you can connect, since people don’t share everything on their first encounter with a new acquaintance or friend. However, there are some possible starting points. These could include: meeting people through existing friends or joining a group that enjoys what you do (such as a sport or hobby). Alternatively, you may choose to seek-out people who share your philosophical or religious beliefs. Whatever the case, it’s important to connect with people that you can relate to.

Knowing Who You Are Outside of a Group

Before you can connect with people (within a group), on a deeper level, you need to be confident in yourself. You need to know who you are. Outside influences may easily change your own perception of yourself, which may lead to a change in the way you behave. This, in turn, may leave you feeling inauthentic and (ironically) disconnected from the group.

Furthermore, if you do not know who you are outside of a group; you may feel like you have no individual identity. Which is not true. Therefore, finding yourself is a very important first step to take. It will allow you to be confident in your own identity, which will also attract the type of people you want to surround yourself with. Discovering yourself and partaking in self-reflection will also enable you to understand what you feel is missing. Through self-discovery, you may also start to realize which types of relationships you want to foster. In the end, this will lead to more fulfilling relationships and overall life satisfaction.

Finding Your Tribe

How Do I Find My Tribe?

Let’s cover some simple, practical pointers for finding your tribe.

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

If you don’t risk venturing outside of your comfort zone, you’re not giving yourself an opportunity to grow and develop. So, try something new. Be adventurous! You’ll never know what you may end up enjoying unless you try it. Take risks! Sign up for something you usually wouldn’t sign up for (such as a new sport or activity) and you may just discover that you really like it. Go to a new talk, event or meeting. Even if you don’t, at least you’ve narrowed down what you don’t like!

Find a Group Online

In the world of digital communication and constant technological advancements, there are so many online groups to join. These range from local cooking groups to local bloggers, local moms, people who share similar medical conditions or mental disorders to people who are interested in charity work. The list is seemingly endless. Search online for a group, forum or website that you would be interested in joining. If you don’t know where to start, search for your interests and hobbies and find a group from there. Consider going online to start connecting with a range of different people with similar interests. What a great way to find your tribe!

Take Part in Things That Interest You

This is a relatively easy way to connect with people who share similar interests. Sign up for surfing, dancing or any other activity that interests you. It’s guaranteed that the people you meet are there for the same reason: to do what they love. This is a great way to connect with people, whilst partaking in an activity that you enjoy.

Volunteer in Your Community

Supporting a cause you care about (such as social equality or animal welfare) is a great way to meet people who have similar values to yours. This ties back into meeting like-minded people, all the while making a difference in an area that you deeply value.

Sign Up For a Class

This is a great way to not only learn something new and exciting, but also connect with people who are on a similar journey to yours. Signing up for something (such as a cooking class or learning to play a new instrument) may prove to be rewarding; both personally and socially. This setting may also make it easier to start conversations with others and set-up future opportunities to socialize.

Can I Have More Than One Tribe at a Time?

Of course! Why limited yourself to only one tribe? Many people have different tribes for different aspects of what they love and desire. One tribe may offer you comfort while another may offer some adventure. A specific tribe may offer you personal advice, while another may be more business related. You do not need to limit yourself to only one tribe. Branch out, explore and find the connections you need in all aspects of your life.

Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

As cliché as it may be, the idea that “your vibe attracts your tribe” can be quite truthful. What you project out into the world is what people will perceive and this is what they will begin to engage with. They will recognize certain aspects that they may want to connect with. So, allow yourself to be yourself. Open yourself up to the possibility of connection.

Finding your tribe may seem daunting or, perhaps, even impossible. You may feel that your busy lifestyle is always getting in the way. It’s important to remember that connecting with others is a central part of human nature. Busy schedules can be tweaked in a way that allows for this healthy connection. So don’t wait any longer, find your tribe today and start thriving instead of simply surviving!

What Are Some Alternative Forms of Male Bonding?

Being able to form strong bonds with other men is often essential to protecting a man’s well-being. The problem, however, is that a lot of men struggle to form deep, emotional, and meaningful connections with other men in their lives, including those people they love or care about the most, such as their father or best friends.

In contemporary society, men find it easy to bond in an active or competitive way, whether that’s in the form of sports, martial arts, the military, competitive games, or outdoor activities. Men will also traditionally bond in ways that confirm their masculine identity, such as partying and drinking together, and in a business setting.

However, not all men are passionately interested in these kinds of pursuits. They may want to form deep, genuine connections with men that don’t depend on masculine norms like competitiveness, winning, dominance, violence, primacy of work, or pursuit of status. And there’s nothing wrong with having these preferences. They don’t make you any less of a man. They just mean you might have a certain personality type or inclination that attract you to some activities and not others. For example, if you’re a highly sensitive man, you may prefer quiet one-on-one conversations to partying with your friends in a loud and busy bar or nightclub.

Fortunately, there are all kinds of social situations and contexts that allow for these kinds of conversations. Here are some examples of non-traditional ways that men can bond.

Going Out to Eat

The bro-date or man-date is extremely underrated. They are crucial to any bromance. Two guys might feel uncomfortable going out together for lunch or dinner, unless (God, forbid) someone thinks they’re a gay couple. Which really goes to show how unhelpful and ridiculous masculine norms are. One of the 11 masculine norms that men feel expected to conform to is disdain for homosexuals. The way this manifests is that many men will avoid behavior, interactions, or relationships that – in their eyes or anyone else’s – might be perceived as or mocked for being ‘gay’.

Women don’t really have to contend with this issue. Two straight female friends don’t meet up for dinner and worry about being perceived as gay, nor are they likely to care if they were. This is a generalization, of course, but the masculine norm of disdain for homosexuals really does affect the kinds of relationships men have with each other. Which is a shame.

Alternative Forms of Male Bonding

There’s nothing wrong, effeminate, or abnormal about two guys going out for a meal. Yet, if you’re ever in a restaurant and see two people together, it’s far more common to see two female friends than to see two male friends catching up with each other over some food.

The benefits of having a one-on-one meal with a male peer or friend can’t be overstated. Often, when men are in groups, it becomes difficult to have open, honest, and heartfelt chats because the dynamics change. Men are more likely to be competitive and jokey when they’re amongst a group of guys. If there’s something you want to get off your chest, it may seem inappropriate to do it in this kind of context.

When it’s just two guys hanging out, on the other hand, men may find it easier to talk candidly about their emotional life. This is especially true for introverted men, who may prefer one-on-one conversations to larger group interactions since the former more easily allow for deep, meaningful conversations. Introverted men thrive on these types of conversations and may feel more drained by and less interested in surface-level or frivolous topics. (Which is not to say that introverts are a boring bunch who shy away from banter, of course.)

So, if there’s a friend or male peer you’d like to have a more honest dialogue with, make plans to eat somewhere together. Turn that into a regular thing and you can build a male bond that can act as an extremely crucial and unique part of your support network.

Road Trips or Long Car Journeys

A long car journey can be an ideal time for men to connect, as it’s a situation where it’s just two men. There are no outside influences you have to worry about judging you. You have complete privacy. Also, a lot of guys feel more comfortable speaking about deep issues when they’re not looking at each other since it can be a bit unnerving to have someone look at when you’re exposing your vulnerability or tender emotions. Being in a car allows you both to look straight ahead and talk. When you’re in a car together, you don’t have an excuse to escape. Many men find that their most serious conversations with other men, including their fathers, take place during car journeys.

Traveling or Going on Vacation

Traveling with a guy friend can be another way to really get to know each other. Often, when you travel with a friend or go on vacation with them, that’s the true test of friendship, as you will get to intimately know each others’ quirks, tastes, and eccentricities (for better or worse!)

When it’s just the two of you traveling together, you’re going to spend a lot of time in each other’s company – certainly for longer periods than you would ever hang out back home. If you don’t drive each other crazy abroad, then, hopefully, you can form an even stronger bond. The unforgettable sights, activities, mishaps, and chance encounters you both experience can be something you both cherish and look back on fondly together. Think of a guy who you honestly think would make a great travel partner and start planning an awesome trip together.

Therapy

It can be difficult for men who are struggling with their mental health to reach out and seek professional help. But a lot of men find it’s easier to speak to a male therapist because they feel they will truly understand their struggles as a man; how their mental health issues have become so tightly wrapped up with modern notions of masculinity.

The bond between a therapist and client can often be a very close one. Which is unsurprising, after all, since the client is bearing their soul and revealing their innermost secrets. In order to do this, a man has to feel he can trust the therapist he is speaking to, and feel assured that the therapist genuinely cares about his hardship.

The advantage of talking to a male therapist, as a man, is that it may help you to form a genuine male bond when, perhaps, you feel this is something you are lacking. Opening up to a male therapist can help you to realize that it doesn’t have to be humiliating or embarrassing to reveal your vulnerable side to another man. The therapeutic relationship can allow you to see that men are entirely capable of responding to your suffering with empathy and compassion.

Your therapist is not your friend, of course, although relations may be friendly and lighthearted. What your therapist may teach you, however, is that it’s okay to trust other men when it comes to sharing intimate details about your life and that it can be an invaluable thing to have a man in your life who you can have a heart-to-heart with.

Support Groups

Support groups, whether they’re male-only or not, are another sanctioned setting in which men can be totally open with each other, without the fear of being judged or put down. When men feel a burning desire to get something painful off their chest, they may grapple with the worry that, if they tell another man, or a male peer finds out, that it will forever ruin their male pride. Once the dirty secret is out in the open, it can never be a secret again.

This worry, nonetheless, is often misplaced. While some insecure and narrow-minded men may criticize you for showing vulnerability, true friends wouldn’t do that. One way to get over this worry and feel comfortable expressing your emotions is by attending a support group. Whatever your problem, be it related to your mental health, drinking, or drug use, there will be other men in the room who are also struggling. And they will try to understand the turmoil that you’re going through, offering an empathetic ear, their life experience, advice, and support. Ron Tannebaum, the co-founder of intherooms.com, a social networking site for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol, said:

“12-step meetings. It doesn’t get any more real than that, and I’ve never felt closer to men than I have in those rooms. Throughout my life I thought I had strong male relationships, but it was only when I entered recovery that I found out what true male bonding was all about. I, by the grace of God, found men who reached out to me and taught me how to become a real man. A man with integrity, a loyal, trustworthy and monogamous husband, a good father and role model, brother, friend, employer, sponsor and a responsible member of society. My male friends are the cornerstone of my success in life, they helped me become the person I always wanted to be, me.”

Alternative Forms of Male Bonding

Men’s support groups, in particular though, may be ideal spaces for men to open up about their emotions. In a male-only space, men are probably more comfortable being vulnerable, and less likely to ‘man up’, compared to if women were present. A mixed gender group could make you feel a bit more awkward about expressing more intimate details or discussing specific topics, such as relationships.

Deep down, men want to feel that they are understood, especially when it comes to their masculinity, which is why male-only mental health support groups may be best suited to this discussion. There is likely to be a widespread understanding of how gender impacts mental health. This helps men to know they’re not alone, which can feel like a huge burden has been lifted. It’s a relief to know you’re not suffering in isolation.

Fred Rabinowitz is a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California and he has outlined some of the benefits of men’s groups. For example, he argues that male support groups help men to trust other men again. In the competitive, macho culture that we live in, men may find it hard to connect with each other in an emotional and non-judgemental manner. But in a men’s support group, you can talk about who you really are. In this unique kind of environment, you can drop all of your personas and facades and find acceptance from other men.

Find Your Tribe

If you’re just yearning to connect with another man who shares the same interests as you, then consider joining a group dedicated to that interest. These are usually organized on Facebook or on sites like Meetup.com. You may be passionate about all kinds of hobbies or interests, such as debating, writing, books, art, philosophy, science, politics, and spirituality. By joining a group based around a common interest, you can meet men who you can connect with easily and quickly.

Most guys love electronics, gadgets, and technology. For this reason, a lot of men have some of their best bonding experiences when talking about tech-related stuff. Whether you’re straight, gay, or bi, there’s a good chance you’ll have a fascination with technology. Men, after all, tend to display a natural preference for things over people, so when you have a bunch of guys surrounded by hi-tech things, it’s a chance for them to express their common interests and connect on that level.

Bonding with other men in sport may not be for you. And that’s alright. You may not be really into sports – or you might be, but perhaps interested in more solitary physical activities, such as weight lifting or running. If this applies to you, consider the above options as ways to bond with men. If you can foster these kinds of situations and relationships, then your general well-being will improve massively in the long run.

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