Humans are social creatures, whether we like it or not. This seems to come more naturally for some than for others. We see photos of seemingly happy people with friends, family, significant others, pets, children—you know, “loved ones.” On social media, on tv, on the internet, in pictures. It seems as though everyone has better lives and relationships than you do. And yet, especially as a therapist, I know that isn’t the whole truth, it’s often a façade.
There are significant differences between people and their social connections, depending on a host of factors, including where they fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum, their attachment experiences in early childhood and throughout life, and environmental factors and supports—or lack thereof. Trauma history, particularly in childhood, also plays a role. So too does adoption, divorce, stepfamilies, foster care, deaths, relocations and other losses.
Aging also plays a role. We tend to lose connections during the course of our lives over time. Studies have found that, on average, the most number of friends you’ll ever have peaks in the early 20’s, with steep drop-offs over the ensuing decades. And it’s harder for most people to make—and keep—friendships as an adult.
Some families are much more closely bonded than others, or “enmeshed.” Others are more loosely connected. There are stark differences between securely attached people and families and insecurely attached ones. They say that happy families are all the same, but unhappy ones are each unique in their dysfunction.
We all have to learn to survive. Love is real. Attachment and bonding are real. But it’s not always pretty and polished. It’s messy and sometimes fraught. We all need connection and to support ourselves and each other.