Human relationships lay the foundation for our emotional well-being. Important take-home messages include i). All human beings are alike in our core emotions – the desire to be happy, to be accepted, appreciated, treated with respect and dignity, and so on. ii). However, we are often very careless about the way we treat others – even though we expect to be treated nicely. iii). Taking the pains to be nice and thoughtful towards others – especially family, spouses, children, colleagues at work e.t.c. is an investment that we should all buy into, to make our experience of life better for us all. This week, we discuss the importance of human relationships across the lifespan.
Children and young people
Children and young people learn about human relationships first by observing how their parents and other family members relate to each other. Children begin their socialization process, through observation and imitation. This process forms the bedrock of their early understanding and potentially shapes their interpersonal relationships for the rest of their lives. In this regard, “The child is father to the man”.
Therefore, the ability of a child to form stable attachments and relationships with family members, that is positive stems from being nurtured in a loving, happy home where everyone is treated with respect and dignity; where conflicts and disagreements are resolved through explanations and discussion -rather than an exchange of blows and insults. Thus, you are teaching your child to grow up expecting and conforming to the same standard of behavior. Until it becomes ingrained and second nature to the child, to be respectful, to help others and offer a helping hand, to volunteer for more responsibility in times of need, and not to resort to insults and violence when provoked, frustrated or angry. The reverse is also true that if the family environment is toxic, hostile, and unstable, it also negatively affects the child’s self-esteem, and happiness and is likely to result in poor emotional well-being. Such children may also exhibit behavioral problems such as fighting in school, disobeying rules, and poor academic performance.
Adolescence is an even more delicate phase of development when they may turn to peers for guidance, reinforcement, and a feeling of bonding – especially where these are not available in the home environment. Especially in these days of social media and virtual friends, the quality of relationships within the family and the home environment is crucial to provide a reality check and serve as a stabilizing factor.
A good school that boasts of a mental health-promoting environment is also an important asset for children and adolescents. Such a school should support and encourage every child and adolescent to achieve their potential without being made to feel awkward or rejected. Every child and adolescent has unique strengths. It takes a good school with experienced teachers, who are well-trained about the emotional needs and peculiarities of children and adolescents to enhance these traits and promote their emotional well-being.
If the school environment is not supportive or conducive to emotional well-being, then bullying, peer pressure, experimentation with drug abuse, and ignorant exploration of sexuality will be the norm – with the potential for disastrous consequences.
Adulthood comes with the responsibility of securing and retaining a job, starting a family, and having to navigate the work environment. Relationships at home (with the spouse and children, as well as with family members and in-laws) can contribute towards positive emotional well-being or can be destructive and a source of constant emotional stress. Additional challenges can also occur when marriages break down, resulting in divorce or separation; when there are financial worries; difficulties at work, or health challenges.
Studies are clear that the relationships we form and nurture throughout our adult lives are important to our mental health. Those who can establish stable relationships are consistently healthier, happier, and more content with life. The major task of adulthood, therefore, may be twin-pronged: establish a successful and happy family life and develop a successful career. None should be sacrificed for the other, but a good balance should be sought.
Most of our senior citizens (65 years and older) have to contend with loneliness and isolation. At this time, most of their children have moved and established their own families and the senior citizen may have also retired from work. Health challenges may also be a constant concern. Thus, close relationships and having a closely knit social support system are crucial to their emotional well-being in later life. The absence of such relationships may lead to depression.
Optimal human relationships are crucial at every stage of human life, from childhood through adulthood to old age.
Dr. Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 1st December 2022