Tend and Befriend: A Healing Survival Response

During an introduction to Somatic Experiencing training I was participating in last week, the presenter spoke about not the typical 3, but actually 4 survival mechanisms. We all know about fight and flight. In a previous blog I also addressed the freeze response. During this past training, we learned about the “Tend and Befriend” response to survival.

Formally calling the basic human need to connect as “Tend and Befriend” was brilliant. The fact that it was a survival response was AMAZING!

Think about it: How many times have you had your heart broken, felt like you didn’t know how you would make it through, and you sought refuge in your girlfriends? It felt like your world was ending and you didn’t know what to do. And after seeking refuge in your girlfriends, pouring out your tale of woe to them, allowing them to take care of you and tend to your wounds, you were able to rebuild your strength and move forward. Leaning on your girlfriends for support helped you regain the strength you needed in order to survive and make it through.

I hope that sounds about right!

As humans, we are very social beings. Our well-being and our livelihood often depend on the relationships we have with the people around us. That’s why relationships are so incredibly important and the focus of what we do here at the Relationship Center of Silicon Valley.

Being surrounded by a community of supportive, like-minded people helps us to feel better. When we surround ourselves with people who are loving, supportive, and lift us up in a non-judgmental way, we have the ability to thrive. Having a tribe of people that you can depend on is so incredibly crucial to our well-being as a part of the human species.

When we are surrounded by loving, supportive people, we feel better faster. End of story.

One of the ways that I work with women to improve their relationships is by helping women to form a better relationship with themselves first. It is truly my belief that when a person is filled up from the inside out, only then is that person whole. However, what happens while we are on the journey to learning how to love ourselves? We turn to our tribe of loving, supportive people to help us learn what love looks like.

This is not to say that we rely on our tribe for EVERYTHING and that we ALWAYS seek love and approval outside of ourselves. Not at all. What we do is we use our tribe to help model for us what unconditional love and support looks like. When we are in a community of people who truly love us and support us unconditionally, we learn that we are indeed loveable and we then learn how to love ourselves.

Generally, once we have learned that we are inherently loveable and that we are deserving of our own love and support just as much as anyone else’s, we are able to be successful in relationships…And we have learned that we can rely on our tribe to love us, support us, and be there for us no matter what.

But, what happens if you don’t have a tribe? What happens when you feel like there is nobody in your life that you can trust with what is going on for you?

My answer: Find a tribe!

Now, for most people the idea of finding a tribe can bring up lots of different feelings. For some it can bring up lots of discomfort because we have trust issues, or we feel like our problems and challenges are too big. For others it can bring up feelings of inadequacy, such as feeling like we will be judged. For others, it might even bring up fears of rejection because perhaps in the past you were an oversharer.

This is where it is important to be highly discerning in how you select your tribe. You definitely wouldn’t want to walk into the coffee shop and start randomly speaking to strangers about what is going on for you. But, when working on building a community, where do you even start?

I have to say, it takes time to build a community of like-minded people that you feel you can trust. Just like the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.” The same way, your tribe will not be built in a day.

However, if you do find that you need help in starting to form a community of people who can help you when you are in need of the Tend and Befriend survival response, here are some ways to help get you started:

1. Check out different communities on Meetup.com. There you will find a whole slew of women’s groups, support groups, mindfulness communities, and pretty much anything else that you can think of. The best way to approach Meetup groups is not to go into them with the expectation that you will meet your next best friend or your tribe of supportive people, but go into it with an open mind of having fun, learning about different things, and maybe meeting some cool people that are worthy of being in your close inner circle.

2. Check out different support groups on Facebook. I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook and other social media, but Facebook can really be a tool for connecting people all over the world. If you have a parent with mental illness and the impact of this has affected how you interact with people, perhaps you might search for groups on Facebook related to Support for Adult Children of Mentally Ill parents. There are groups for EVERYTHING on Facebook so just check it out and have fun with it. Be warned though, many of these groups are unmoderated and can sometimes be more harm than good. Check some out and if they don’t feel right to you, give yourself the permission to leave at any time.

3. Check out actual support groups or therapy groups ran by professionals. Often times when we grow up with challenging childhoods, our interactions as adults can be challenging as well because we are recreating the same dynamics we experienced in childhood. For example, if you are a child who was abused verbally or emotionally as a child, you might unconsciously find yourself in adult relationships with people who are abusive towards you. Or, you might experience feelings of discomfort around the issues you faced as a child and would feel safer and more supported in a group ran by a professional. One of the groups we offer here at the Relationship Center of Silicon Valley is for Adult Women Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. This is a topic many women shy away from discussing, but in our therapy group, there is non-judgmental support offered and it gives you a safe space to talk about the challenges you are experiencing in your adult life as a result of having lived through this as a child, therefore giving you the ability to heal. Click here for more details about the group.

4. Check out local 12-step programs. If you grew up in a family where alcohol played a big role, perhaps you have been affected by the family disease of alcoholism. When you have been affected by the family disease of alcoholism, there are many ways we can experience relationship challenges in our adult years. Or perhaps you yourself struggle with alcohol or other substances. A 12-step program of recovery is an excellent way to get support from your peers in a way that is shown to work. Click here to visit our Resources page where you can find local information about 12-step programs in the San Jose area.

Hopefully that gives you a good start if you are looking to find your supportive community.

So my question for you is, who is your tribe? Who can you count on to provide you the total, unconditional love and support that you need when life feels like it’s too difficult to get through on your own?

If you are ready to learn how to deepen your relationships, call or email today to schedule your free initial consultation. 

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