How to find your tribe: how to find friends to support your wellbeing

Finding your tribe

We all strive to belong and feel accepted. Secure attachment is a basic human need from an early age and many of us possess an intrinsic tribal mentality inherited from our ancestors. Safety in numbers provided protection from danger, and pooled resources assisted in times of scarcity, while shared knowledge increased the chance of survival.

The importance of social interaction with other people for human cognition, development and wellbeing has long been recognised. Social connection promotes happiness, and surrounding yourself with individuals who show you genuine care and understanding can encourage you to live your best life.

Social connection has also been linked to longevity. Okinawa in Japan is a well-known and researched region of the world where people commonly live active, healthy lives past the age of 100. One of the factors attributed to the health and longevity of Okinawan residents is the tradition of moai. A moai is a group of people who meet regularly to support each other’s social, emotional and sometimes even financial needs.

Your tribe members are people who accept you just as you are. They support you through difficult times in your life, provide you with a sense of community and encourage you to pursue your dreams.

In times of immense stress, grief or trauma, having a strong support network to rely on provides immense comfort and security. Suffering, loss and failure are all part of the human experience. It’s comforting to know that similar experiences are shared by others. You are not alone and do not have to be alone in your struggles. At the same time, greater happiness can be derived when you share your triumphs and celebrate your wins with the people around you.

Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered a link between social connection and the reward centre of your brain. Social connectivity triggers the release of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, which further triggers the release of serotonin. Serotonin activates a region in your brain central to your reward system. This results in feelings of happiness, thereby impacting on your desire for social interaction.

Reduced stress levels contribute to a healthier life and a supportive social network has been scientifically proven to enhance your resilience to stress. Strong social networks can also protect cognitive function in ageing adults. Studies have demonstrated that ageing is associated with a decrease in functional connectivity between brain regions; however, older adults deeply embedded in social networks tend to demonstrate greater connectivity and a reduction in cognitive decline.

The purpose of your tribe is not to “fix you”, and being part of a tribe isn’t as simple as supportive actions and soothing words. It requires active listening, being prepared to have hard conversations and sharing in pain while also sharing in joy and triumph.

When facing a challenging time or a period of isolation due to such things as job loss, chronic illness or mental health conditions, connecting with like-minded individuals can not only provide support and guidance but may also open new networks. These networks may supply avenues for exploring job opportunities or health practitioners and modalities that were previously not accessible.

Finding your tribe

Your tribe members are people who accept you just as you are. They support you through difficult times in your life, provide you with a sense of community and encourage you to pursue your dreams. Before you seek out and find members of your tribe, it’s important to truly know yourself first. This knowledge will assist you in identifying the traits in others that will best support and motivate you and help you to live your best life.

Find yourself

Your tribe members will demand authenticity from you and, in order to be loyal to your tribe, you must first be loyal to yourself. According to author and research professor Brené Brown, you will never truly belong until you belong to yourself. “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world. Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our sense of self-acceptance.”

The purpose of your tribe is not to “fix you”, and being part of a tribe isn’t as simple as supportive actions and soothing words. It requires active listening, being prepared to have hard conversations and sharing in pain while also sharing in joy and triumph. “True belonging is not passive. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are,” writes Brown.

It’s essential you are emotionally equipped to assist other members of your tribe to reach greater heights. You need to have a loving relationship with yourself and a healthy level of self-awareness. This can be achieved by turning your focus inward and gaining a deeper understanding of what is at your core.

Through a process of meditation and self-reflection, take the time to identify your values and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. Gain an understanding of what drives you and what sometimes stands in your way. Applying mindful self-compassion to this process as you identify negative thoughts and self-limiting behaviours can assist in reducing these thoughts and behaviours in the future. This, in turn, can assist in improving your confidence, happiness and self-worth.

A deeper level of self-awareness and enhanced self-worth brings about the confidence to give yourself the space and freedom to be authentically you. Life coach and author of The Art of Talking to Yourself, Vironika Tugaleva, says, “Self-discovery changes everything. When you find your authentic self, you can find people who want to connect deeply, like you’ve always wanted to, instead of constant small talk and head games. Now you can have real intimacy. Now, you can find your tribe.”

Release judgement

Finding your tribe means connecting with people who tell you what you need to hear, as opposed to what you want to hear, but do it constructively and without judgement. By completing your internal work of self-reflection and establishing your core principles, you can come to your tribe from a place of non-judgement yourself.

Mindfulness can also assist in cultivating a state of non-judgement. Mindfulness allows you to be present and receptive to experiences. Being present allows you to experience each moment fully and deeply without the need to attach thoughts and emotions that can bring about judgment or negativity from past experiences.

Identify what you seek in others

It’s important to have an understanding of the traits and qualities you seek in other members of your tribe. People who you can forge a strong personal connection with are often people with similar morals and values. It’s also worthwhile connecting with people who inspire you.

Group contagion theory suggests you model the behaviour of those around you. If members of your tribe engage in healthy behaviour, you are more likely to behave in a similar fashion. This influence can affect areas of your life ranging from your weight to your level of income. Research has proven that happiness is contagious. A range of studies conducted by sociology professors James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis clearly demonstrate that the health and wellbeing of one person affects the health and wellbeing of others embedded in the same social networks. Christakis and Fowler explored the idea that emotions are a collective phenomenon. Their studies demonstrate how happiness can spread through social networks from one individual to another in a chain reaction. It’s therefore important that you chose members of your tribe wisely.

Christakis believes social networks can generate numerous positive outcomes. He describes a fundamental connection between social networks and goodness. “The flow of good and desirable properties like ideas, love and kindness is required for human social networks to endure and, in turn, networks are required for such properties to spread,” he says. “Humans form social networks because the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs.”

At some times in your life, you are attracted to personalities that offer a distinct contrast to your own. Where complementary traits and strengths can be advantageous, it’s important to not fall into the trap of seeking others who can “fill in the gaps” where you feel you are inadequate or provide you with a voice in times when you are lacking in confidence. Your tribe speaks with you, not for you, and provides you with the support and encouragement to have the confidence to feel whole as you currently are.

Having a shy or introverted personality is not a limiting factor in finding your tribe. The key is to establish connections with other sensitive, caring and compassionate people. It’s helpful to remember that every person has their own strengths and unique characteristics, so while you are seeking mutual traits, a degree of tolerance and appreciation for individual differences is also important.

Get started

Surround yourself with like-minded people and engage in activities that soothe or inspire your soul. Identify your passions and the activities you derive the most enjoyment and satisfaction from. A good starting point is to think about what you enjoyed as a child. Book clubs can be a good avenue for avid readers, as can musical groups for singers and musicians. Artistic workshops, dancing lessons, martial arts, laughter yoga or meditation classes can connect you with a community of like-minded souls.

Exercise groups are also worth exploring. Through walking groups, boot camps or group exercise sessions you can find people committed to self-improvement and the health benefits gained from physical exercise.

Consider activities in the online world. Utilise social media to establish a virtual tribe of people with similar interests. Search Facebook interest groups or re-engage with friends with whom you had a strong connection in childhood. Once these groups are established, it’s important to take the connection offline. Social connection that’s solely via online networks can still lead to feelings of isolation.

Take action

Set clear, measurable, realistic goals to act on and set your intention by writing these goals down. An example of a specific and achievable goal may be to “contact three dance schools by Friday and enquire about class styles and prices”. The key to manifesting your goals into reality is to visit the list daily, focus your attention on what you want and give yourself permission to receive it. And, most importantly, take action and complete the tasks that are required.

Making connections

Often you only establish a connection with one person or a small number of people when you take part in a group activity. Signs you have made a connection may include easy conversation, shared interests, feeling relaxed and comfortable in each other’s company and the ability to have meaningful discussions.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t make these connections quickly, and be prepared to try several activities until the right people begin to cross your path. Fowler and Christakis’ research into the spread of happiness via social networks also demonstrates that it’s not the size of your tribe and the total number of connections you make that brings about greater happiness. Happiness is based on the number of positive connections.

Members of your tribe or moai may include your children, a grandparent, your spouse, your best friend from childhood or someone you recently met. There are no restrictions, age groups, gender or cultural requirements. A tribe does not need to be a cohesive, organised club or group. Members of your tribe may rely on support from other individuals that you don’t find a connection with, resulting in their network being a completely different collection of people from yours. Your tribe may also change over time as your goals, interests and sense of self develop and evolve.

Know when it’s not right

Trust your intuition. If you feel uneasy about sharing your personal thoughts and experiences with a particular person, listen to your inner voice and ask yourself why. From each individual member in your tribe or moai, you should feel genuine care, compassion and respect.

This is also a good practice to apply to other close relationships in your life. Subjecting yourself to criticism or negative energy from those around you does not contribute to your happiness or sense of self-worth. You must, however, interact with a range of personalities in everyday life and it’s naive to expect to feel a connection to everyone. Tugaleva advises, “Plenty of people will think you’re crazy, no matter what you do. Don’t let that stop you from finding the people who think you’re incredible — the ones who need to hear your voice because it reminds them of their own. Your tribe. They’re out there. Don’t let your critics interfere with your search for them.”

Complete the circle

Brown believes that true belonging only exists once you have the courage to stand alone. Through a process of knowing yourself fully, showing up authentically and having the courage to stand behind your decisions and beliefs, you can find your place of true belonging. Says Brown, “There is a sacredness in being part of something while having the courage to stand alone.”

Begin with the knowledge that finding your tribe can take time and will require you to be vulnerable and at times uncomfortable. Each step of the process will be worth the effort. Once you find your tribe, you will set yourself up for a lifetime of love, support and happiness.

Emma Nuttall

Emma Nuttall

Emma Nuttall is a nutritionist (BHSc) and freelance writer. She combines evidence-based nutritional medicine with mindset strategies to support her clients in achieving their goals. You can find more about Emma here

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