social connections: the tonic for well-being

Most of us are quite simply trying to carve out a life of well-being. Well-being includes thinking that life is good, experiencing positive emotions and low levels of negative moods (Deiner, 2009). The Social and Emotional Well-being Model describes risk, protective and promotive factors that contribute to a person’s well-being by minimising harmful factors and maximising positive ones. Risk factors are person, family, situation or community variables that may contribute to negative outcomes; protective factors include variables that reduce the likelihood of negative outcomes occurring; and promotive factors contribute to positive outcomes and enhance well-being.

The Well-Being Framework is a useful model to help guide interventions and best practice guidelines to strengthen families and support survivors of family violence because the framework recognises the importance of community, social and societal variables as influencers of well-being for survivors and their children.

It makes sense that victims of family violence often feel isolated, disconnected, confused and riddled with self-doubt and low levels of hope, all of which challenge one’s sense of well-being. Research reveals that during times of stress and fear associated with domestic violence, social support can offer both compassionate understanding and practical assistance (Brewin et al., 2000; Norris, Baker, Murphy, & Kaniasty, 2005). Social support is a particularly potent ingredient in developing well-being for survivors of family violence because many perpetrators systematically isolate their victims from loved ones, colleagues and friends to purposely minimise options for help (Stark, 2007). Research also concludes that social support increases options for escape and assistance, as well as access to community resources which can protect survivors from future harm (Hobfoll, 2001).

Children exposed to family violence are influenced in many similar ways as their survivor parent with regards to the role risk, protective and promotive factors play in the development of their well-being. However post-trauma, a child’s level of resilience is increased by the presence of a secure attachment to the non-abusive parent or other significant adult (Graham-Bermann et al., 2006; Kliewer et al, 2004). Therefore, while not always easy, finding ways for survivors to connect and bond with their children is also paramount in the development of child resilience and well-being. Well-developed social connections and support networks are also key to help children navigate the after-math of abuse as they develop a sense of acceptance, safety and belonging.

At the Family Peace Foundation, our aim is to share evidence-based messages via radio advertising and our web-site to help strengthen families and minimise family violence because every child has the basic right to be raised in a peaceful family home. Information is power and creating dialogue in our homes and work places around family conflict is important. For survivors who are reading this blog, we encourage you to reach out to trusted friends, colleagues, or professionals because the need for social support is steeped in large bodies of evidence. And if you suspect you know a victim of family violence, checking in with them may be a significant step in creating hope and connection, thereby ensuring another child is given the chance of a peaceful upbringing, and the kind of well-being we are all innately seeking.

Brewin, C. R., Andrews, B., &Valentine, J.D. (2000). Meta-analysis of risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 748–766.

Diener, E. (2009). Subjective well-being. The Science of Well-Being, 11-58.

Graham-Bermann, S.A., DeVoe, E.R., Mattis, J.S., Lynch, S., & Thomas, S.A. (2006). Ecological predictors of traumatic stress symptoms in caucasian and ethnic minority children exposed to intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 12(7), 663–692

Hobfoll, S.E. (2001). The influence of culture, community, and the nested-self in the stress process: Advancing conservation of resources theory. Applied Psychology, 50, 337–370.

Kliewer, W., Cunningham, J. N., Diehl, R., Parrish, K. A., Walker, J. M., Atiyeh, C., et al. (2004).  Violence exposure and adjustment in inner-city youth: Child and caregiver emotion regulation skill, caregiver–child relationship quality, and neighborhood cohesion as protective factor.  Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33(3), 477–87.

Norris, F. H., Baker, C. K., Murphy, A. D., & Kaniasty, K. (2005). Social support mobilization and deterioration after Mexico’s 1999 flood: Effects of context, gender, and time. American Journal of Community Psychology, 36, 15–28.

Stark, E. (2007). Coercive control: How men entrap women in personal life. Oxford University Press.