Human beings are naturally social animals and it is a basic and fundamental instinct for us to try to bond, connect and form attachments with others; the benefits we may gain from such relationships with others when we have experienced trauma include providing us with :
- a greater sense of meaning in life
- a greater sense of safety
- a greater sense of belonging
- a greater sense of affirmation/self-worth
- someone to confide in
- someone to advise us about coping strategies
- someone to help us understand and process what has happened to us
- someone who can help us look at what has happened from a new and original perspective
- someone who can help distract us from our negative ruminations and feelings
- someone who can help emotionally soothe us
What Does The Research Say?
Our relationships with others significantly influence how we cope with and respond to trauma; the researchers Calhoun and Tedeschi (2006) suggested that specific reasons as to why this should be so included the following :
- other people may positively alter how we view the world and how we interpret and perceive events
- other people may introduce us to additional coping methods
- other people may provide us with social support
Leopore and Revenson also suggest that our relationships with others can help with how we respond to trauma in the following ways :
- weakening the connection between the trauma and negative emotional responses and replacing them with positive emotional responses
- helping us to regulate (control) our negative emotions connected to the trauma by shifting our focus of attention
- helping us to habituate to negative emotions connected to the trauma
- facilitating positive cognitive reappraisals in relation to the trauma
And, through his research, Weiss (2004) found that those who had suffered traumatic experiences can benefit in particular by having social relations with others who have also lived through trauma and who have not only coped with it but have also experienced posttraumatic growth in response to their traumatic experiences and can, therefore, act as role-models.
Schroevers et al., (2010) conducted research suggesting that having other people to help the individual who has suffered trauma cognitively process information connected with the traumatic experience can also be of significant benefit.
Also, those with access to good social support systems tend to have both a better sense of general emotional wellness (Henderson and Brown,1988) and lower levels of depression (Lara et al.,1997) when compared to those individuals who lack social support.
Furthermore, good social support not only improves our psychological health but also has benefits for our physical health such as strengthening our immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser and Glaser, 1992).
Research has also found that even if, by any reasonable, objective measure, we are receiving adequate social support during and after traumatic periods its benefits will be greatly diminished if we do not perceive it as adequate; for example; if we perceive someone we are close to as being non-receptive when we confide in him/her information about our traumatic experience – irrespective of whether they actually are non-receptive – our sense of emotional well-being will be diminished (Cordova et al., 2001).
From such research we are able to infer that in order for us to have a significantly increased chance of coping with trauma and experiencing posttraumatic growth, it is not necessarily enough to receive adequate social support – we must, too, believe that those providing this support genuinely care about us.
Research also suggests that, in the aftermath of trauma, it is at least as important (and, perhaps, even more important), to avoid negative and critical social interaction in the aftermath of trauma as it is to find positive support if one wishes to experience posttraumatic growth.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).