Nourishing our social selves

“No man is an island unto themselves…”

John Donne

As we wind down the week after the celebration of our Nations birthday, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence those 240 years ago; I am reminded of our need for others in our life, sharing our life’s journey, and that of our place within society; that we are indeed not “an island unto ourselves.”

We are “Wholistic” beings (not to be confused with “Holistic”), actually made up of four selves: The physical self, which is our body; our psychological self, which is our thoughts and feelings; our spiritual self, which is comprised of our religious tenets and values; and our social selves, which is fulfilled by our interaction and communion with other people.

The Philosopher Dr. Abraham Maslow, in his model of “hierarchy of Needs,” explained that one of the most essential need we have is the need for belonging; an essential step in our reaching the human goal of “self actualization;” becoming a fully Wholistic person. It is this need for belonging and the Social Self that I wish to address in this article to you this week.

As a Counselor I very often encountered clients and patients who told me, “I don’t need anybody.”

This was most prevalent among those who had a Personality Disorder, which served as a barrier to them having social relationships. They, as most of us, realized they could not go through life attempting to maintain themselves without the assistances of others.

I bring to mind those Air Force officers whom I had the honor and privilege of knowing who had been Prisoners of War in those horrible conditions during the Vietnam War. One Colonel, a pilot shot down and captured, was held prisoner in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” for seven long years.

I shall never forget him relating to me that despite all of the physical torture that he experienced, both mental and physical, it was not to compare to the effects of being isolated from his comrade prisoners. I shuttered as he explained that he was in a position of despair and loneliness so intense that he often questioned whether he had the strength to go on. So horrible was this impediment to the belonging need, that the prisoners invented a means of communicating with each other by tapping out messages on their cell walls.

This “Tapping System,” included an alphabet and numerals so ingenious that it was never discovered by the captor enemies. Communicating with others gave him, and all the prisoners, purpose in life…a reason to go on.

Examples of mans isolation from others and its effects are to be found throughout history; books, poems, films, etc; all attesting to the fact that we need others in our life to have fulfillment. All of us really know what others mean to us, whether they be the family members, close friends, and , yes; at times even strangers who we may befriend or befriend us.

We also know what it is like to be lonely, and even in a position of despair; and the associated thoughts and feelings those instances produce…that instinctual need to belong is ever present.

For individuals in recovery from addictions, self-help groups assist in forming bonds with individuals who are also in recovery. For those individuals suffering from the terrible affects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), trauma specialists and groups give the person relief and meaning. Individuals group with others who have similar philosophies and positions in life…political party affiliation, sports teams, hobbies…are comprised of individuals grouping together.

We all at one time or another been associated with a group who fend off our loneliness and despair, nourish our self esteem and self worth; and this social nourishment (along with our nourishing our physical, psychological, and spiritual selves) brings our wholistic self into homeostasis; balance. And, without balance, my friends, we feed depression, anxiety, and a host of other unhealthy feelings and associated problems.

I so often encountered individuals in my counseling career who, in their state of depression, were isolative and became more depressed. They had great difficulty coming to terms with the facts that others were needed in their life, that medication alone was not a solution; and above all coming to grips with the fact that “Depression feeds Depression.” Fortunately, of the thousands of individuals I encountered in my career, in out-patient and in-patient facilities, many were able to follow through with their plans of treatment involving nourishment of their physical, psychological, spiritual, and social selves. Even though having a brain chemical imbalance, they were able to grasp and develop the tools they were given in alleviating their depressed states and go on to live a healthy life.

The most successful of those were the individuals who reached out to others; family, friends, and groups to assist them in developing and nourishing their social selves. This was quite apparent in all recovering individuals, whether it be in mental illness or addictions, and it is also apparent in all of us who have had periods of loneliness and despair along our life’s journey. As the old song goes: “Everybody needs somebody sometimes.” Everyone needs belonging in their lives.

It has been my experience that most people who are experiencing problems of social interaction, no matter from whence it comes, really just want “a hand up,” and not a “hand out.” And, above all, they need to feel that they belong. No, my friends, none of us is “an island unto ourselves.” Let us not forget the last stanza of John Donne’s most famous poem: “…And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Please reach out if you are in a feeling state of loneliness and despair, and offer that hand up to others. Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!