The importance of playing a part in your family's story
Family is a vital part of who we are. But through life it can be easy to lose family connections, which can ultimately lead us to lose connection with ourselves. Psychologist Dr. Sasha Lynn looks at how understanding where we come from can help build connections with others and keep us moving forward and feeling good.
Our families play an important role in the story of our lives. Shaping our ideas, values and sense of what is normal when we are little, family teaches us how to live well with ourselves and with others. Sometimes though, the story can take a few unexpected twists and turns, or the plot doesn’t always seem clear. And this can impact on our overall well-being as we journey through life.
What is connectedness?
Connectedness is all about our relationships with others. It encompasses our positive experiences with people, building our sense of self-esteem, emotional competence and how we bounce back from tough times.
Family connectedness in particular is referred to a characteristic of the family bond, and includes closeness with parents, siblings and relatives, support, warmth and responsiveness of family members toward each other. Connectedness within families can take the form of rituals, celebrations and traditions that your family may share, and then in turn you carry those bonds with you and utilise them in your own life. Such family moments encourage us and our loved ones to openly share our emotions and affection, to strengthen bonds, to provide support and give us a feeling of belonging.
We all want to belong. Belonging is a sense of acceptance, and being a part of a common experience. It can help us cope with difficult moments, strong emotions and daily experiences. While connectedness is that sense of self in relation to the relationships around us, belonging is a core human drive. And for the most part, that feeling of belonging begins in the family.
How do families shape us?
Often, it is our family that gives us those first life lessons on relationships, communication, problem solving, emotions, rules and boundaries. Family connections can help us feel safe as we learn to navigate the big world around us.
Having a sense of belonging and connectedness is important for our wellbeing. Even something as simple as regularly sharing a meal as a family
has been shown to provide benefits to children and adolescents’ academic outcomes, reduced risk for eating disorders and substance abuse, and greater overall well-being. For older adults, having a solid family connection has an important benefit with regard to feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts when living alone. Those with positive family connections feel less depressed and suicidal thoughts decrease. Even when we don’t live near each other, it shows how important keeping those family bonds are for our wellbeing.
When the story doesn’t go to plan
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Unfortunately, not all of us have access to our family history, or there may be some ruptured relationships with relatives. Those early years of attachment and bonding impact on how we then go on to interact with people and handle situations we find ourselves in. If you are struggling with a sense of connectedness and wellbeing, looking back at your role in the family can provide you with some key clues to mending that feeling of bonding and building positive relationships.
It’s important to know that despite any family storylines going astray during your upbringing, you can always get back on track. With an understanding of where you have come from, and looking at where you want to head, a feeling of belonging and connectedness can be achieved in many ways. It’s about being open and willing to put the effort in on your part with the family you can connect with. It’s also about acknowledging your part in your family, and the patterns that have formed in your relationship development.
If you don’t have any family around, connecting in with close friends
and other social supports can go a long way to building those bonds and social connectedness that we all need for a healthy and happy life.
Other ways you can gain a sense of social connectedness are: volunteering, joining social groups, connecting online, planning regular group/family catch ups. For parents, Early Childhood Australia
provides some great tips to build family connectedness and inclusion. You don’t have to be a passenger in the journey to your wellbeing, you are an active agent and can drive your role within the family, and in your wider relationships to tell the story you want for your life.