Social relationships and emotional separation

Social relationships play a fundamental role in defining our identities. We strive to live together in family settings, we have children with the hope that our genetic make up will live on and we seek the company of others who are in some way similar to us in the hope of finding acceptance and commonality.

Managing social expectations

However, all too often social relationships can cause anxiety and stress. These stressors are often associated with social expectations and the need to conform to social norms. This appears to be particularly problematic for individuals who value social acceptance and who are part of a close knit family and/or community. There may be a conflict within an individual for the need to separate from friends and family whilst wishing to remain connected and supported by the same social structures. 

Dependency vs autonomy 

It is useful to note that this conflict and attempt to separate tends to occur during adolescence, when individuals test boundaries, assert their own need for autonomy and begin to define their own norms. However, this process is not always supported by caregivers and communities particularly where inter-dependency, conformity and social acceptance is highly regarded. This can lead to complications in emotionally separating adequately from the caregiver in order to develop a balanced and psychological healthy way of managing subsequent adult relationships. The balanced approach would entail an individual negotiating a middle ground, one which adheres to necessary social values and norms, whilst retaining the capacity to think independently and exercise self autonomy when appropriate. 

Fear of rejection and childhood experiences 

However, there are times when individuals find it difficult to make choices that are emotionally right for them for fear of being criticised, rejected or even abandoned by others. Although this may seem irrational, often these fears stem from unresolved fears in childhood and adolescence. The toddler who learns to curb his/her own need for love, care and attention in order to avoid displeasing or frustrating the caregiver, may learn in adulthood to anxiously adhere to all social norms in order to be liked or accepted. This may not necessary be a problem if others provide the necessary assurance and acceptance. However, this tendency, if abused in a social relationship (within family settings or even at work) can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. 

Seeking appropriate support

If you find yourself unable to articulate your own needs or unable to choose a lifestyle that feels right for you. If you fear criticism and rejection to the extent that your choices and decisions are entirely based on gaining acceptance from others. If you find yourself feeling increasingly isolated within your own social circle or community. You may be at risk of developing emotional difficulties. If this is the case, you may wish to consider the following:

  • Take a risk and ‘test out’ speaking about a topic you would never normally talk about with a close confidant. This may be a friend, relative or colleague. Try to anticipate their reaction and compare that to their actual response. Notice any discrepancies in your expectations and notice any drop in your anxiety levels after you have spoken with them. 
  • Consider your relationship with your parents or caregivers. How did you meet your needs with them? How did they respond when you needed comfort? Notice any similarities in how you behaved as a child with your caregivers and how you now engage in adult social relationships whether at work or at home. 
  • If you find that you are persistently feeling low in energy, lacking motivation, withdrawing from others and losing interest in daily activities, then it may be useful to speak to an appropriately trained mental health professional. You may wish to access individual or couple/family therapy to talk through some of the above, so that you may learn more about any unhelpful relationship patterns which have detrimental effects on your emotional well-being. By examining these unhelpful patterns, you will be better able to understand yourself and others, and be better able to manage your own needs and wishes within your relationships and within your social settings. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Dr. Sidrah Muntaha, Chartered Clinical Psychologist & Supervisor

I am a chartered clinical psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS). I am member of the Division of Clinical Psychology and have specialist experience in working with complex mental health issues including psychosis and personality disorder. I offer individual interventions, couple work and supervision.… Read more

Written by Dr. Sidrah Muntaha, Chartered Clinical Psychologist & Supervisor

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