Take a look at the science behind maintaining and cultivating social connections, and tips on how to do so.
Positive relationships are fundamental to sustained wellbeing.
Having positive, regular and in-person contact with other people helps you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth, gives you an opportunity to share positive experiences, provides emotional support and allows you to support others.
What features does a good relationship have to you?
Building and maintaining good relationships (both personal and professional) is something we have to work on our entire lives. Of course, the features of a positive relationship are many, including actively listening to each other, communicating our ideas, opinions, dreams and life experiences without judgement, and making time for each other to support one another and engage in healthy activities together.
This self-study module below explores the benefits of social circles and what to look out for when deciding who’s in your own social circle. Once you have completed this module, you can go on to part two which looks at improving our social circles.
• Be honest and open with yourself
• Treat yourself with kindness and respect
• Be present
From our partners, family and friends, through to colleagues and neighbours, and even that same person you sit next to on the bus every day – they’re all considered to be in your social circle.
We all have social circles in our lives to varying degrees. Our social circles are the groups of people we communicate with.
Positive, regular and face-to-face contact with other people helps you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth. It gives you an opportunity to share positive experiences and provide emotional support, as well as to support others.
Communication is fundamental to our wellbeing and quality of life, but it’s not always easy. Building and maintaining good relationships (both personal and professional) is something we have to work on our entire lives.
When we’re feeling down, anxious, stressed or depressed, it’s important to reach out, even when we aren’t motivated to do so. In this module, we’re going to identify:
• Who is in our social circle
• Our important relationships
• What a good relationship means.
Those included in our social circle are people we have contact with, for example, family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, tutors, neighbours, and health professionals (like counsellors and therapists). We can generally categorise our social circles into an inner social circle and an outer social circle, with ourselves at the centre – like a bull’s eye.
We can sometimes struggle with telling the difference between an acquaintance and a friend but both are important connections.
We can understand the difference between acquaintances and friends by thinking about what we talk about and the way we communicate with each other.
To determine whether someone is a friend or acquaintance, ask yourself have you ever talked with this person about personal things? Asked them for advice? Had them come to you for help? If the answers are no, they’re probably an acquaintance. In friendships, we are more vulnerable and share more intimate parts of our lives.
Acquaintances can be a low-risk sounding board and source of advice. Try opening up to the right acquaintance, and you might make a new friend.
On a piece of paper draw a circle and write ‘me’ in the middle. Now draw a circle around that one – this is your inner social circle. Draw another circle around that one – this is your outer social circle. Think about the people you know and write their names in either the inner or outer social circle.
Remember - a close relationships doesn’t mean it’s positive. Some of our closest relationships are our most stressful ones, and these are exactly the relationships we want to explore in this session.
Sometimes family members are on the periphery of our lives or not in our lives at all, and no one (including you) should make you feel guilty about that. It might be just the way you like it. If it’s not, we’ll figure out if it’s something you’d like to change.
• Is there a good balance of people?
• Are there more people in the inner circle or outer circle?
• Are the right kind of people in the circle?
• Would you like more friends in your inner circle?
• Was there anyone who you couldn’t place in either circle?
• How do we communicate (face-to-face, via phone, text, etc.)?
• How often do we see each other and who initiates contact?
• What activities do we do together?
• What do we usually talk about? And what don’t we talk about?
• How have things changed over time?
• How do you feel when you think about seeing that person?
• How do you feel after you’ve seen them?
Think about what works well and what you’d miss if you didn’t have that person in your life anymore. This can be hard to answer if your relationship is full of conflict or you’ve been really hurt or disappointed by this person in the past. Try to remember what made you connect in the first place.
Think about when this relationship makes you feel sad, hurt, angry or disappointed. If you can’t come up with anything you don’t like, pay attention to this. Nobody’s perfect, so why the imbalanced view?
What would you like to be different about the relationship? Even if you don’t expect anything to change, think about what you would if you could to make the relationship more positive and beneficial for you. It might even be something small but you wish it bothered you less.
Write down the features a positive relationship has to you. Think about:
• Listening to each other
• Communicating without judgment
• Trusting and respecting each other
• Making time for each other
• Remembering details about each other’s lives
• Engaging in healthy activities together.
Now you have a more detailed overview of your relationships, you will be able to identify steps you can take to improve them if you wish to do so.
Don't be afraid to ask for support from the other person - relationships are two-way and making positive changes together can help strengthen your connection.
You may now wish to do the self-learning module on improving social skills and connections as a way to cement your learning.