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The Impact of Family

We talk a lot at YU about the importance of social connection, and how nurturing the relationships that are important to us can reap a whole host of benefits for mental health and wellbeing.


Potentially the most influential and enduring of those social relationships is that of our family. These are the first humans we bond with, and they are (usually) present throughout our childhood, and often beyond. As such, they can play a pivotal role in shaping our values, beliefs and our view of ourselves.


Families come in all different guises. Contrary to what has traditionally been shown in the media (although this is changing and broadening), family does not always mean, Mum, Dad and two children. The format of a family can be any range of different possibilities, and that means we all have a different notion of what constitutes ‘family’, and how we feel about it.


And this is key – not all families are created equal, and we can end up feeling very differently to others about our parents, siblings or wider family. We may not even realise that we don’t feel like other people do until we get older and experience how other people interact in their families.


If we’re lucky (and thankfully, most of us are for the most part), we find ourselves in a loving, supportive family who not only care for us on a practical level, but nurture and support our emotional needs, with all members of the family feeling like they can turn to each other in times of need, and can share fun and happy memories. There will be tensions and minor conflict along the way, that’s normal – but families built on love and support can weather these storms and become more resilient as a result.


To be the product of a nurturing environment can provide us with the foundation for positive and robust mental health. To be table to tackle to challenges that life can throw at us safe in the knowledge that we have a sounding board, a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on in our nearest and dearest gives us a sense of safety and security that allows us to flourish. We feel like we have a tribe that we belong to, who understand and accept us, which makes us feel respected and protected, boosting self-esteem and confidence, and reducing the risk of anxiety and depression.


However, not all family situations are positive and supportive. There is a wide spectrum of potential scenarios that can arise within families, and they are not experienced uniformly – for example members of the same family can perceive things very differently to each other, and may report wildly varying experience of the same event.


From minor squabbles to toxic family members, environments that fail to provide the love and support we would expect from our family can have far-reaching negative consequences. Ranging from poor communication, constant conflict and tension, to lack of warmth, failure to discuss emotions or only to focus on criticism, or even neglect or abuse, living with these factors within a family can have a profound impact on how we develop as a person, how we view ourselves and how we interact with others.


Being surrounded by such negativity can have a dire effect on mental health. It can cause stress, anxiety and worry, which may result in low self-esteem, lack of confidence and self-worth, and an inability to cope with life challenges. Not having a positive example of how relationships work can make it difficult to form social bonds in adulthood, leading to loneliness and isolation or depression. All of this can lead to the desire to numb or escape from feelings by engaging in substance abuse or reckless behaviour.


What is key for positive family relationships that benefit us throughout our lives is emotional warmth, acceptance and respect, along with effective communication, healthy boundaries and a supportive and nurturing environment. All of these factors combine to help us be resilient, valued and optimistic.


If you are reading this, and your family experience was not a positive one, it can be difficult to understand and process. It’s important to be take things slowly and be kind to yourself. Recognising that you have the power to change your life is vital, but can be daunting – if you feel the need, reach out to others for help. Whether it’s friends, a peer group or professional therapy, support is key.


Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash


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