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Resilience: Social Support Benefits

Harry Mills, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Positive emotions benefit your social health as well as your physical health. Sharing of positive emotions with others helps to bond people together, creating and maintaining strong, healthy, and caring relationships. Caring relationships, in turn, provide social support which nourishes further emotional resilience, and positive feeling states. It is a circular, self-reinforcing movement towards health. The better you feel, and the more you share that positive feeling with others, the more you are able to draw upon the relationships you create through that sharing to create further positive feelings.

The social support benefits of relationships are numerous and important:

  • Close caring relationships offer opportunities to express and to receive love, both of which are important for identity, self-worth and self-esteem. They offer a path towards becoming part of something larger than yourself which which you can identify in a positive manner. They keep you from feeling lonely. They support you when you are down. They are environments in which it becomes likely you will experience positive states: 1) feeling accepted and cared for, and 2) happy playfulness.
  • Inside the give and take of relating are many opportunities to practice social skills (which turn out to be resilience skills as will become clear later on). Healthy relationships promote communication, reciprocity and compassion. They also function as a sounding board, and can provide opportunities for reality testing. Friends may offer workable solutions to problems you would have never come up with on your own.
  • By offering you opportunities to network with people you would not otherwise meet, relationships can benefit you economically (by helping you to find work or work opportunities), and romantically (by introducing you to potential romantic partners).

Where positive feelings help you to build relationships, negative feelings do the opposite. Depressed, negative feeling states tend to break relationships down and erode social support. Negative feelings tend to be consuming and to promote self-centeredness. They do not motivate people to attend to the needs of others. Though friends and family often want to support their depressed relationship partners, they find this a difficult task as depressed, negative people tend to withdraw from offers of support and to isolate themselves. It is ultimately frustrating to remain in relationships with negative-minded people and one by one, the relationships that depressed people have grow more distant or extinguish.