Table of Content:
Genesis of Social Bonding
Can all people form healthy relationships?
Me and others
We, human beings, tend to spend most of our lives in the company of others. We begin our incredible journey as being part of society right from the moment we are born – doctors, nurses and parents are there to help us through the difficulties of the first minutes. This is not only good for the baby’s abilities to adapt to social situations, but is also critical for its survival – the chances that a person can survive on his own in the first years of life are very much close to zero. This justifies our enormous desire to seek contact, support and closeness to other people. Even if we try to take things to extremes and accept an egocentric perspective, whereby we are constantly putting ourselves in the center of the world, we soon appear to realize that even our very own intimate memories most often include our closest friends and relatives. Having taken all that into consideration, I believe it’s safe to say why we put so much thought and energy in the people surrounding us. If we take a closer look at our emotions, we can logically argue that most of them have developed as a response to our social environment and they help us interact better and easier with others. But are we all the same in the matter of our emotional responses? Do we all experience the contact to other people in the same way? Are we all happy to meet new people and create healthy relationships or are there people that tend to get anxious rather than excited, aggressive rather than pleased? In order to answer these questions more effectively, it is necessary to introduce a newly coined construct that has been the subject of rigorous examination and testing throughout recent years: Affiliation Motivation (AM). It essentially tries to explain why people respond so differently to the exact same situations. Before we begin our exploration of Affiliation Motivation let’s arm ourselves with a formal definition of the construct:
Affiliation refers to a class of social interactions (..), the goal of which is to seek contact with formerly unknown or little known individuals and to maintain the contact in a manner that both parties experience as satisfying, stimulating and enriching, The motive is activated whenever we come into contact with unknown or little known individuals (p. 185)
In essence AM can be summarized as the need for a pleasant contact with unknown people. Although it seems very straightforward, we should put extra attention on making the difference between AM and other forms of social relationships. For instance: making impression, seeking to dominate, associating with others, in order to overcome our inner insecurities.
Genesis of Social Bonding
Before we closely inspect the subject of affiliation it would be better for our understanding to take a look at its predecessor – social bonding in general. We are going to take off with an answer to the question how and most importantly why did social bonding start to take prevalence in our everyday lives. To get the big picture, let’s turn back time a few years and imagine ourselves as a hunter-gatherer, whose sole purpose in life is to find nourishment and if possible, continue offspring. But how do we find food since we don’t have any supermarkets- we have to hunt our food. At first we feel very enthusiastic about this new venture, but after 2 days of continuous failure to catch the deer, we soon realize that our chances for success would be greater if we started hunting together with other people. Driven by a mutual goal (food) we combine our efforts and thus immediately increase the chances of survival. After all: half the food is better than no food.
Now that we have our stomachs full, lets start thinking about the other most important thing in our lives- passing on the genes. Although the act of mating is straightforward and most often leads to the birth of a child, it does not ensure that the child will survive and thus the satisfaction of our ultimate goal would not be achieved. Additional responsibility is required (brood care), if we want our offspring to survive. Therefore we would have to sacrifice other potential female partners and invest all of our time and attention to only one. Although it may not sound so appealing to sacrifice one’s polygamous love life for the sole purpose of raising offspring, it has proven to be the most successful strategy and is said to be the key element that has led to evolution. Lovejoy (1981) claims that:
The development of the nuclear family, i.e. monogamous pairs engaging in lasting social relationships and providing intensive parental care, was the decisive behavioral and biological step und human evolution. (as cited in Heckhausen, H., Heckhausen, J., Motivation and Action, 2008)
To sum up, we can say that a huge part of social bonding developed as a function of brood care, monogamy and hunting benefits, which all have proved to be critical for survival and healthy offspring.
Can all people form healthy relationships?
Since we can safely assume that social bonding has a huge biological value, “The need for stable and reliable social relationships is so deep-rooted that even the slightest of threats to such relations triggers a whole range of unpleasant emotions”(p.185) we can continue our journey by trying to answer the question of whether or not we are all capable of forming relationships with others. It is widely regarded as true that our communication skills are innate. However, we all know people that have more difficulties than others when it comes to engaging in social behavior. How could this be true, since all our communication skills are inborn and therefore should be equal? To understand the solution to this riddle, we must familiarize ourselves with the fact that two very important requirements determine successful social bonding: familiarity and trust. Unlike most animals, we have a hard time establishing contact to others if we generally distrust them. Trust forms the basis of our relationships: mother-child bond, friendship, marriage, etc. Therefore it is logical to state that it determines one’s social openness/readiness. But how do differences among people emerge? Why are some more trustful than others? The Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1969, in-text citation) proposes an intriguing explanation by investigating the mother-child relationship. Bowlby believed this to be the key to understanding why people felt and responded differently in the exact same social situations. He believes that mothers are predisposed to receive their children’s signals and that both are highly likely to develop a mutual relationship. I believe that the child’s psychological and emotional intelligence is too fragile in the early years for it to form all by itself. Therefore the caretaker hugely influences it. For instance, if a mother incorrectly interprets or fully ignores the signals her baby sends to her, things can and most likely will turn out negatively for the upcoming social and emotional life of the individual. Lets imagine the situation where we have two mothers, each with her child. One is always loving, supportive and responsive to the child’s signals, whereas the other is ignorant, aggressive and irritated. Which baby would be able to develop the feeling of trust, safety and acceptance? Bowlby argues that children that were brought up in an insecure, fearful and non-loving environment tend to have more difficulties forming social bonds later on in life. They are also more hesitant, have less self-confidence and tend to be excluded more often from social activities. He calls such children: insecure. My thoughts on this subject have led me to believe that people who are insecure and implicitly self-doubtful can very successfully adapt to new social situations and establish normal contact with people. Having spoken to them, they argued that the usage of different approach strategies has helped them fight their nature. In other words, they have consciously learned to manipulate or suppress their implicit motives through explicit means. But does this mean that they feel no anxiety when approaching others, or have they simply learned how to ignore it?
In answer to our main question “Can we all form healthy relationships”, we can confidently deny and argue that insecure people have a greater struggle than secure ones. However, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of explicitly teaching yourself how to do it!
- Quote paper
- Vladislav Tsekov (Author), 2014, Social Bonding and Affiliation Motivation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/356505