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Column: The positive potential of our relationships

We need real — not electronic — face time with one another, says Davidicus Wong, M.D., of PrimeCare Medical Centre in Burnaby.
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Social support from your friends, families and partner are key to your emotional health and resilience, says Davidicus Wong, M.D., of Burnaby.

Healthy relationships (along with healthy eating, physical activity and emotional wellbeing) comprise one of the four foundations of self-care.

A sense of belonging is a key social determinant of health. Social support from your friends, families and partner are key to your emotional health and resilience. Harmony at home is essential to your wellbeing. Conversely, conflict at home, work or school contribute to psychological distress.

What can we do to nurture our social connections at a personal and community level and improve both our personal health and happiness and that of everyone in our community?

On an individual level, we could make our relationships a priority. Of course, at the end of every life, it is our relationships that were primal. Yet we all tend to take our most important relationships for granted.

Without daily care and attention, we can fall into conflict, become distant and neglect our most important partners in health and wellbeing. We spend more time and attention invested in work, school, personal goals and entertainment; they can take over our daily lives, leaving little for what and who matters most.

We must prioritize time each week and every day for the people in our lives. We must nurture positive interactions to offset our human brains’ natural negativity bias.

As neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson has said, our minds are Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. We hear criticisms and demands from others more loudly than affection and appreciation.

Your child, friend, coworker and partner need to hear five positive comments to balance out one negative just to come out even.

We need real — not electronic — face time with one another. Our lasting happiness has nothing to do with experiencing transient pleasures and acquiring more material things. Happiness can only be enjoyed in the moments we are fully present, connected with that which gives life meaning and the people that are an integral part of it.

You are not just an individual. You are part of a greater whole — a partnership and a family, a network of friends and a community, a part of humanity, nature and the world.

We can help others feel more connected in our community by getting to know our neighbours, listening and sharing our stories, recognizing what we have in common and offering assistance when and where it is needed.

As a community — at work or school, in our neighbourhoods, and in our church and social groups — what are we doing and what can we do to reach out and connect with others? We are all a part of a greater whole, and we each play a role in the health and wellbeing of our community.

We create our individual stories to make sense of the world.

These stories are shaped by our experiences and in turn our stories shade how we perceive ourselves and others.   

When I ask patients to tell me about their childhood, they will present a coherent narrative that encapsulates a variety of events, experiences and relationships.

Most do not realize that they’ve subconsciously constructed a simplified story that may differ markedly from those of other family members.   For good or ill, we tend to typecast siblings and parents.  Later in life, we will do the same with our spouses, neighbours, coworkers and our own children.

Our stories can be adaptive in that they help us to make sense and function in life.   They can make us resilient if they allow us to see the positive in what were initially difficult circumstances.  They are truly adaptive if they evolve over time.

When we are young children, our parents know everything.  When we are teens, they know nothing.  When we are young adults, they have acquired a wealth of practical knowledge, and when we ourselves become parents, we appreciate them as they are and the parents that they were.

On the other hand, our stories are maladaptive if they perpetuate caricatures of real human beings.  They can constrain our perceptions of others such that we see only what we have seen before.  We cannot see growth in others and do not allow growth in our relationships. 

Families can get stuck in old ways of relating; each member is arrested in a childhood role.  They slip into the same arguments, and nothing is ever resolved.

Every time I turn on my computer, I am alerted to the latest updates to my current programs.  Even though they manage to complicate our lives, we are actually more complex and multidimensional than our computers.

Why don’t we see one another that way?  The next time you talk to a friend, coworker, sibling, parent or child, really look and listen.  Be alert to the latest updates and upgrades.  See how they’ve grown and changed, and let your relationships evolve as well.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, I’ll be giving a free online talk from 7 to 8:30 pm.

The topic: "The positive potential of your relationships."

I'll discuss how healthy relationship and social connections are essential to your happiness and wellbeing; the qualities of healthy relationships; recognizing and managing challenges, and how we can foster a sense of belonging and connectedness in our community.

It's part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice's Empowering Patients health education program.

To register, email Leona at lcullen@burnabydivision.ca or call 604-259-4450.