by Brenda Ridgley
Can I ask you a personal question? How many close friendships do you currently have? When I say “close” I am asking, how many friends (not including family) would come to get you in the middle of the night if you need help? These folks have your back and keep your secrets. Your relationship with these friends goes beyond the superficial niceties. You have a history with these friends and you can be completely real and vulnerable with them. These friends KNOW you. They are your TRIBE.
Traditionally, a tribe is defined as a social division in society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties. Some tribes have a common culture and dialect, and typically they have a recognized leader. A customary tribe is a face-to-face community, relatively bound by kinship relations, reciprocal exchange, and strong ties to place.
Tribal connections are sacred. The closest of friendships can resemble and have tribe-like attributes. Although not formally bound by responsibility, this group of friends becomes like family and will stick together no matter what. Although people outside this group may not understand how close they are, and their relationships with each other, it doesn’t matter because the members understand it and love each other.
I have found evidence to suggest that having a tribe of 3-5 friends is more than just a luxury. A tribe can help you live a longer, healthier, happier life. Solitude can make you sick. Medically speaking, the feeling of isolation raises levels of stress hormones in the bloodstream and may play a role in firing up chronic inflammation, a risk factor in heart disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. WebMD reports quoting Dr. Douglas Nemeck, chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, who states that it has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity. The problem has reached “epidemic” proportions rivaling the risks posed by tobacco and the nation’s ever-expanding waistline.
Why is loneliness so lethal? As human beings, one of our greatest needs is to be seen, acknowledged, and cared for. We want to belong and be a part of something larger than ourselves. Research is clear. Close friendships are necessary for optimal health and well-being. An article in the New York Times reported that close relationships create positive mental and physical reactions in our body, mind, and heart. Dr. Amir Leving suggests that social connections are the most powerful way for us to regulate our emotional distress, and that proximity to someone you are securely attached to is the most effective way to calm yourself. A longitudinal study of aging found strong social networks lengthen survival among older people.
How deep is your love?
Imagine your “circle” of relationships like a target. You are the inner circle. You first must take care of yourself as we talked about in last month’s issue “You are #1”. The next circle is your tribe – the 3 -5 people that “get” you. They have been around for the good, the bad, and the ugly and love you anyway. The next circle is your social community. You connect with these folks at church, community, and social gatherings. You may even meet these acquaintances for coffee or lunch sometimes. I call these folks the “friendlies.” Usually, you have a reason to connect beyond just the pleasure of their company. The last group is your community on a larger scale. You may recognize them and give a friendly hello of acknowledgment and they you. You generally live in the same place or have a characteristic or group like church or school in common with these individuals.
How does family fit into this? Of course, close family relationships are important and add value to you and your health. Your spouse obviously should check a lot of these boxes. You may even have a sibling that socializes within your tribe and that is a bonus! However family does not replace friendship – the family you choose. Friendships that you build and maintain without the structure of responsibility are perhaps the true love story and bond that really completes us. These relationships are truly reciprocal. You get as much or more from them as you give.
At the beginning of this read, I asked you how many close friends you have. In my research for a book I am writing the sweet-spot seems to be that 3-5 tight-knit friendships are optimal for well-being. My challenge to you is to take my quick friendship survey to determine your number today. Participating in this survey will also help me by adding data to research for my book – THANK YOU! In the months ahead I will be sharing more on this topic including ways to grow and enhance your tribe.
I would love to hear from you about how you feel about this topic, I am looking for friendship stories of love and overcoming obstacles to add to my book. Please share with me via email or on my Facebook page Brenda Ridgley Connections.