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Social Connectedness: Who Needs It? Why?
Trouble makes us one with every human being in the world - and unless we touch others, we're out of touch with life.— Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
At the end of the workday, a woman retires to her bedroom, gets into her pajamas and satisfies her cravings for a bowlful of charcoal.
Another adult woman engages in the childish fantasy of traveling the world through her stuffed toy.
The third woman continues to kiss her dog in the mouth, despite the diagnosis of an infection contracted from the dog.
All three women seemed oblivious to the weirdness of their behavior. The psychiatrist on the talk show which featured them mentioned that they seemed to be compensating for their lack of social connectedness.
What Is Connectedness?
Some synonyms for connectedness are relatedness, association, and integration. It is more than the surface connection we make with the fellow worker in the office. It is a deep sense of kinship we experience with someone who cares how we feel, who asks to make sure, who keeps our concerns on his or her personal agenda.
The opposite of connectedness is detachment, which someone in the Experience Project1 describes this way. “I can’t seem to connect with people. I've never had a best friend in my daily life, never had someone I could tell my deepest, darkest secrets to, someone who I felt safe letting them hold me... Always feeling lost…No matter what I say no one hears, no one gets it.”
The concept of connectedness in the world of self-psychology promotes two principles:2
- Self-development and sense of self depends on “attention, praise and empathy in our personal relationships.”
- We have a basic need for a relationship with someone we admire for being “competent, protecting and consistent."
Being in a relationship with someone we consider significant to us, receiving from that someone the attention we need, empowers self-connectedness and social connectedness with other people.
Establishing Connectedness in Children
(a) At Home
The child first experiences connectedness with parents. The natural bond automatically strengthens as the parents provide for the child’s emotional and physiological needs. Planned Parenthood counsels3 that in order to maintain, and not lose, this connectedness, parents have these continuing responsibilities toward the children:
- Build and maintain trust.
- Demonstrate love, care and affection.
- Share activities with their children.
- Prevent, negotiate and resolve family conflicts.
- Establish and maintain structure.
- Communicate effectively.
This type of parent-child connectedness should grow stronger with the years. Both parents and children benefit from not losing it.
(b) At School
Jackie Gerstein4, Ed.D encourages school teachers to pay as much attention to connections as they do to content. She points out that as early as middle school, students focus at the beginning of the year on who is in the class, not what they are going to learn. They want to know the teacher and the classmates. It is socially healthy for them not to lose interest in the people around them.
Social connection between teacher and children, and also among the children themselves creates an atmosphere of safety and a feeling of confidence. The students develop team-member skills which they can apply in adolescent and adult life.
Measuring Connectedness in the Youth
The Hemmingway Measure of Adolescent Connectedness5 was developed by Dr. Michael Karcher of the University of Texas-San Antonio. It is a youth survey which, in addition to emphasizing relationships, encourages students to seek help. It makes connectedness active, insisting that it is not only about receiving love and attention, but also about reaching out for support.
Karcher reported in 2009 that a high level of connectedness correlates with self-esteem, academic achievement, resiliency and social interest (provided that the connection is with positive influences). A low level of connectedness can result in depression and negative attitudes.
The Hemingway measures four areas:
- Becoming (connectedness with self)
- Being related (with family)
- Being academic (with school)
- Being social (with friends)
The tool which is available at adolescentconnectedness.com helps youth mentors guide the social behavior of their students.
Maintaining Connectedness as an Adult
With that brief observation of how connectedness develops from childhood through youth, and how it influences adult behavior, we can look again at the three women mentioned in the beginning.
- Instead of their strange actions, would it be better for them to enjoy connectedness with a person?
- Could it be that they intentionally refuse human connectedness because of negative outcomes from previous relationships?
- Would it make a difference if the negative experience happened in childhood, youth or early adulthood?
Many adults deliberately withdraw from social connectedness in an attempt to protect themselves from people- problems. They seem to believe that closing out everyone and closing in themselves is a way to conserve their joy and peace of mind; but joy multiplies when it is shared, and peace is more satisfying when it survives conflict. We are designed to grow in relationships.
Some children and adults have difficulty connecting because of mental disorders. They need social connectedness no less, and should be offered professional help.
All things considered, we can maintain connectedness if we pay attention to the following findings6:
- Feeling isolated from others can: disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol, alter gene expression in immune cells, increase depression, and lower overall subjective well-being.
- The impact of loneliness on premature death is nearly as strong as the impact of disadvantaged socioeconomic status.
- Anyone can reduce feelings of loneliness by . . . making a daily effort to nurture healthy relationships.
Regaining and Maintaining Connectedness
Are you satisfied with your level of social connectedness?
Many of us lose connectedness temporarily after a traumatic event like a severe loss, or disappointment. We may even feel disconnected from God. At such times, we need supportive relationships. The following actions will also help us.
- Embrace the problem rather than disconnect from ourselves. Learn to feel—pain, sorrow or whatever emotion comes. Ignoring the feeling delays the healing.
- Know that we are not alone. Some other people we know have just come through a similar experience, or are about to begin theirs. Sharing lifts everyone’s burden.
- Cherish the connections we have. Turn off the television and put away all the media gadgets when we have company; put the effort into strengthening the connectedness in the room.
- Express appreciation for the caring people in our circle; do our share of caring when it's our turn.
1. Tulick: The Experience Project, I Feel Disconnected, (05/27/2008)
2. US Department of Education: Mentoring Resource Center Fact Sheet, No. 28 May/June 2009
3. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota: Parent-Child Connectedness in Our Communities, © 2011
4. Gerstein, Jackie Ed.D: Beginning the School Year: It's About Connections Not Content, (08/21,2011)
5. Karcher, Michael: Hemmingway: Measure of Adolescent Connectedness, © 2014
6. Bergland, Christoher: Psychology Today, Maintaining Healthy Social Connections Improves Well-Being, (02/18/2014)
© 2014 Dora Weithers