It has often been said that we “should work on ourselves first” before making a lifelong commitment to someone else. There is a lot of wisdom in this as we need to be really OK with ourselves first, on the inside, not just the outside, and have a basic readiness that is essential to relationship success.
Researchers Nyla Branscombe from the University of Kansas and Catherine Haslam from the University of Queensland collaborated with lead author Jolanda Jetten on experiments that explored the importance of group membership to a person’s self-esteem.
Their subject group included school children, the elderly, and formerly homeless people from several countries. They found that people who belonged to several groups, regardless of what these groups were–had higher self-esteem. The only caveat was that these people needed to see the groups they were a part of to contribute to their sense of who they are—in other words, these groups offer a sense of identity along with belonging. Most interesting was the finding that having many friends did not correlate with higher self-esteem like being a part of several groups did. Apparently being a part of a group does more for our sense of self than just our interpersonal relationships do. So much for the old belief that having many friends makes us well-adjusted and raises our self-esteem.
According to the researchers, group membership offers people meaning, connection, support and a sense of control over their lives. Certainly helps to explain how important group identity is to a developing adolescent and why kids will gravitate to ANY group, even one that is seen negatively, rather than risking having no association or identity.
This also defines an old belief that somehow self-esteem is something we just possess or not. The good news is that anyone can raise theirs by seeking out groups that offer them something valuable and actively participating in them. It has been shown in previous studies that people who feel a part of something larger live happier, healthier lives than those who are isolated. Makes a lot of sense.
All this points to the importance for anyone in any relationship stage to stay connected to others outside of your primary relationship and family. Peer networks that grow from work relationships, shared passions, places of worship, community causes, or anything that brings people together and helps unite them is good for us. It appears that old adage has real wisdom—“No man is an island.”