In this weeks chat with Wallace, our last of the series on Resilience (see also: Resilience and Emotional Immune System) we talked about how one of the strongest predictors of peoples ability to cope with stress and trauma across life is the quality of our earliest relationship, that of the attachment to our mother. (Yeah I know a therapist WOULD say that, but wait there’s science!) (Click here for audio of the interview)
“Research has shown us again and again that healthy relationships can single-handedly confer resilience to human beings facing stressful and potentially traumatic circumstances. Secure attachments – those relationships where there is a consistent, warm, attuned, and responsive adult – confer the greatest resilience to the developing nervous systems of our kids. Of the children who grow up in the extremes of poverty, abuse, and neglect, the ones who bounce back the best and somehow beat the odds are the ones with at least one person in their life who cares for them and is available on a consistent basis. It seems we are built by design to thrive in attuned and responsive relationships. Love nourishes and buffers our hearts.” (Click here for the whole article).
Roughly speaking if poeple have had problems in that early relationship then they will tend to either be:
- Avoidant of attachment and closeness with people
- Ambivalent about closeness and move between wanting closeness and intimacy, and struggling with it when they do have it
- Disorganized if their early life was particularly traumatic or difficult, where there is very little ability to use relationships positively at all
And about two thirds of adults are:
- Securely Attached meaning they’ve had a good enough experience of parenting in their early life that they can use relationships and maintain closeness. For more about adult attachment styles click here.
The good news is that even if you didn’t have that great a start in life, the human brain is “plastic” that is, it can learn and change based on experience. And positive, nurturing and compassionate adult relationships can change your attachment style for the better. Therapy can do that, but so can close friendships or a loving marriage.
The other good news is it doesn’t take a lot of people. Just one or two close committed and ongoing friendships can make a substantial difference to your ongoing emotional and physical health:
“Studies have shown that middle-aged people who have at least one friend they can turn to when they are upset have better overall health than people without such a friend. Similarly, single people are at a greater risk for depression than married people, and people who withdraw from social contact when they become ill tend to become sicker. Seen in this light, having a supportive group of friends and family is a major asset for maintaining good physical health. If you want to maximize your opportunity to stay in good health, find time for close friendships and work hard to maintain them.” (Click here for the whole article).
So look after your friends. Especially the good ones. The ones that listen and take time to hear how you are and support you when you need it. Make sure you return the favor. It might just save your life, in the long run.