YOUR SUPPORT TRIBE
Why You Need It & How To Build It
Belongingness is an emotional need that gives us the sense that we are connected or affiliated with a group of people. Yet it’s a bit more than just being acquainted. It is a need that is based on attention, acceptance and mutual support. It requires reciprocity. It can lead to many realizations within a person and may cause changes in belief systems, behaviors and attitudes.
We all need a sense of belonging. When we were children, our first relationship was with our parents and any caregivers we may have had. By the time we went to school, we made friends of our own, started our connections on who we wanted to play with (more often than others) which deepened our emotional muscles to navigate those friendships.
Through high school and college, our sense of belonging increased, and we became super interested in our social activities and friends. At that stage of growing, friends seemed to be more important than family members.
Reaching adulthood, life keeps us busy in jobs or getting married and growing a family, so it becomes a bit more difficult to spend time with friends. We are pre-occupied with our family first rather than keeping the ties of friendship strong.
However, when challenges in life occur, as it does everyone without exception, that trusted circle of friends is what actually act as pillars of support for us, more so over time as we become aging elders.
Growing up in a diverse New York in an immigrant Dominican family, I sought my own sense of belonging. But that proved difficult when I looked at the cliques around me, whether it was people sticking with their own race and culture or young people sticking with only those their age. I did not understand.
Just like children who do not truly see the difference in races and cultures, and who would be curious about the world, I wanted friends to have fun and laugh with, and I wanted friends I could learn from. I did not know what it meant to stick with my own kind and I still don’t. Because my own kind is not only my big family; as I grew in wisdom, my own kind was all of humanity. Anyone who showed me kindness and compassion, they are my kind of friends.
My family is from all over the globe, in all skin shades and mixed with all the traits that come with those shades — we have European traits, African traits and Indigenous traits. However, it wasn’t until I made friends with the elders as a young woman that I began to truly understand and see how important it was to have a diverse circle of friends, to build a strong support system as I navigated life in the United States.
Wisdom From The Elders
It is so important to be culturally intelligent and associate with people of different cultures and ages. There is much to learn. I have been blessed that my friendship story began through being present with the older generations, the elders.
Just living for so many years gives the elders the advantage of seeing the world longer and understanding people better. They offer priceless wisdom that can sustain you in the long run – all you need to do is keenly and actively listen not because they are always right, but because they have more experience in knowing how to go about living your best life before you leave this Earth.
3 Important Lessons Learned From Having Elders As Friends
1. Be Young At Heart And Smile Often.
Youth isn’t simply a time in life; it’s a state of mind. It’s that angle that helps you take calculated risks and create mistakes till you learn from them. One of the major tips in staying youthful is keeping that childlike wonder. Staying young, wild and free is a blessing that doesn’t last forever but until you are truly grateful for the small things, you won’t see the big picture of how smiling and expressing gratitude keeps a youthful glow on you. Yes, smile big and smile often. And yes, smile – while you still have all your teeth. That’s a lesson the elderly can teach anyone. Old folks smile even when they don’t have any teeth!
2. Do Not Be Stuck On One Way Of Doing Things Or Be Stuck In One Place.
It is worth learning how to be flexible and independent. If you have never stepped out of your city, town or country, you may want to talk to someone experienced and wise before you do. It is an amazing adventure to travel often and live in different places and experience different cultures. You gain the knack of being independent, flexible and handling big responsibilities – all while creating wonderful memories of adventures to share with others, especially if you have grandchildren one day. Oh, what amazing stories you can tell and the wisdom you can share! Traveling not only opens windows to new worlds but also teaches you the different perspectives about life.
3. In All You Do, Always Be Kind!
Kindness is powerful – certainly much more than indifference, it doesn’t cost anything to be kind. Kindness has a strong, positive impact on relationships. By simple acts of kindness, you could turn someone’s difficult day into a happy one.
Wisdom From Youngsters & Others
Having spent precious time with my elders, many of them until the end of their lives, I gained enough courage to go back and rebuild connections with friends from high school. I had but a handful of these friends. For me, high school years were confusing and tough – trying to fit in, getting to know who I was and what I wanted to become.
As my high school friends and I reminisced, I found that I had learned 3 lessons from my past teenage friends, some of them whom I could only find a real connection with whilst in college and others much later whilst in my 40s.
3 Lessons Learned From Having Teenage Friends And From Other Challenging Connections
- It Is Up To You To Make An Effort To Belong.
You need to be the one to put yourself out there. You need to be the one to seek out activities and groups of people with whom you have common interests, and you need to be the one to engage with others.
- Practice Patience
You do not actually know when solid connections will happen and it doesn’t happen overnight or as quickly as you might expect. It takes time to gain acceptance, attention and support from your peers. They are learning too. They are also looking for where they belong, how to be members of the group and how to become better friends.
- Be Accepting That Everyone Is Different With Different Circumstances.
When you focus on the similarities and not the differences, it connects you to others and helps build stronger, lasting friendships. The best thing about accepting that everyone is different, is that it helps you remain open to new ways of thinking and you learn something new, if you allow yourself to do just that.
Throughout my life, I continue to learn how diversity is a gift, and how for me to have a rich and fulfilling journey is to have friends from all walks of life. Even having children as friends leaves me in a state of wonderment and awe. I look at the world of humans with curiosity, and I’m always amazed at how I can utilize my senses – seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting – to continually re-discover the world in a whole new way.
The Wisdom Of A Support Tribe
Of course, this is not to say making friends or navigating through life is easy. But when one chooses to throw a wider net in developing friendships, there will be more opportunities to experience many different perspectives of life, which equals wisdom.
Research has shown that having a social support system can positively impact your mental health. It can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Having contact with a variety of friends can help you manage everyday challenges, offer you different opinions when making difficult decisions and even bring comfort during a crisis.
For people who do not have a diverse circle of friends, this is the time to use technology to connect with friends far away through social media, text messaging, emails, video calls, etc. Even when technology is unavailable, one could still write letters the old-fashioned way.
No person is an island and we all have a need to connect with one another. We should be creative in seeking out those connections. Every support system and every friendship is different. You may have one or one hundred people in your life to reach out to. The numbers do not matter but do reach out.
It is important to care for your own mental health and wellbeing by reaching out to the support of friends. Although it may take time to build a solid one, it is well worth the effort. Every step you take brings you a step closer to having friendships that can last a lifetime, as you build memories and stories along the way that you can share with the world.