We are more likely to cope with trauma, overcome it and go on to experience posttraumatic growth if we have a good social support system around us. Indeed, 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.
What Are The Benefits Of Having A Good Social Support System?
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 to 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 to emotionally sooth us
In fact, having 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).
Perception Of Social Support Versus Actual Social Support :
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 unreceptive when we confide in him/her information about our traumatic experience – irrespective of whether they actually are unreceptive – 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.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).