G3.4: Social contact would help protect against oxidative stress.

People and other species are social creatures whose survival may have been dependent on being part of a group rather than being isolated. Loneliness has been associated with increased inflammation and a reduced resistance to infection by viral diseases. Genetic changes have been found to occur in isolated individuals that lead to the increased inflammatory response in comparison to individuals who have more social support. Genes can be temporarily turned on or off depending on the environment.

Our instincts have developed to trust that being part of a group increases our chance of survival. Having a role that fulfills a valued purpose for the group is associated with an increased sense of happiness. Read more: A Better Kind of Happiness, by Will Storr, (G3.9).

Fitting into groups well can require social skills that need to be nurtured from birth. Infants learn body language at an early age by interacting with a parent who responds to the baby’s cues. If the baby smiles the mother smiles back and the baby learns to smile more readily. If the baby has a mother that doesn’t notice body language though, then the infant may stop smiling as often.

Infants and children depend on their caregivers for everything and try to please with their smiles, eye contact, or baby coos. If the infant isn’t receiving eye contact in return however they may stop trying or are scolded they may learn to look away and to avoid eye contact.

Children ideally need emotional support in order to develop trust in themselves and in others. Parents who have limited skills in understanding and accepting their own emotions may not be able to teach their children what they don’t understand themselves. Children who have some role model in their lives who understands emotional skills may cope better than children who don’t.

The topic is discussed in more detail in the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD, (New Harbinger Pub., Inc., 2015, Oakland, CA) (G3.10) (This book is not a twelve step book and is not affiliated with the Adult Children of Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Parents twelve step group.) On page eight the author discusses the importance of emotional connection for humans and other mammals for responding less negatively to stress. Stephen Porges published work in 2011 suggesting that mammals evolved a way in which we can get additional soothing during fear situations when we are in touch physically or possibly even mentally – thinking about them during times of need. It involves vagus nerve pathways that can be inhibited to reduce the fight, flight, or freeze stress reaction. (G3.10)

So a sense of connection to others can help reduce the negative inflammatory effects of the stress response. Some stress can be healthy to help get us moving to meet whatever challenge has occurred. Stress may become more overwhelming however if the person is isolated or never learned social skills or developed enough trust in others to ask for help or seek out help.

Children in situations with emotionally immature caregivers may learn that people around them can’t be trusted or that trying doesn’t lead to success so why bother trying – they can learn a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and not even try to seek help because they are unfamiliar with finding strength or support from others.

In the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson (G3.10) four different types of emotionally immature caregivers are described and how growing up with them might affect children. Solutions are also provided in the form of techniques for how, as an adult, a person might overcome the lessons they learned as a child once they discover that emotions aren’t dangerous things to never be discussed or worse –  that one might be punished for exhibiting them.

Some emotionally immature people may feel threatened by strong emotions and may react negatively to children who are simply being children. The child in that situation learns to not trust themselves and may not learn that emotions are normal rather than upsetting or frightening.

Severe childhood trauma can lead to changes in the brain that cause ongoing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A new strategy for treating PTSD has been developed which involves electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve called Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS).  

The excerpt summary from the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents (G3.10) regarding the research by Stephen Porges suggests that the vagal nerve is the nerve pathway that naturally is stimulated when social contact is sought by mammals who are enduring a stressful situation. (G3.11) (G3.12)

Whether you are a parent or a teen or an adult learning more about emotional maturity and immaturity can help understand your own emotions and others. Whatever we grow up with will seem normal to us and as adults we tend to seek out similar relationships to those we were familiar with as children – but sometimes what seems normal to some people isn’t normal for everyone else and there is no need to continue living in abusive situations just because it seemed like a normal part of life as a child.

Lack of emotional skills may increase the risk of acting inappropriately when under severe stress. People need the support of people to help reduce negative effects of stress and increase a sense of connection and purpose. People need to learn emotional skills from people who have emotional skills  – or sometimes from a book, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson: (G3.10)

  • Attachment Theory and parenting styles are discussed in section 8. Trust is learned early.

The descriptions in this section suggest the inconsistent parenting of the Disorganized style or a parent that switches between Avoidant and Anxious-Resistant styles. A more trusting  Secure style can be achieved with the help of Cognitive Therapy techniques and practice; but it is a lot of work to change core values, or more realistically – attempt to modify slightly, core values that remain from early childhood. Art Therapy or EMDR therapy can help access nonverbal feelings and events that may have occurred during the preverbal years of childhood. Dialectical Behavior Therapy can help when there are cognitive and physical issues underlying mood symptoms.

  • Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a service for locating a nutrition counselor near you at the website eatright.org: (eatright.org/find-an-expert)

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