Human beings are social creatures by nature. Some of us may be more outgoing compared to others, but at the end of the day, we're all wired for engaging in social interactions with those around us, like engaging in "Share A Hug Day." Sometimes a person needs to be surrounded by numerous friends and be in constant communication with others. Sometimes an individual is content with just their family members, or a few select close friends. The importance of love and affection varies depending upon the individual, how they demonstrate romantic love, and their lifestyles, experiences, and preferences. To go without some form of love and affection in our lives, though, can cause problems along the way, especially if this lack of support and interaction begins at a younger age.
How Neglect Can Shape A Child
One of the most important times in a human being's entire life is their years as an infant and a child. It can be considered, in some contexts, to be the most important part of our life because it is during this period is when the most emotional, physical, and psychological growth takes place. Who we are as adults is decently dependent on our childhoods (though, of course, growth and change are always possible no matter your age or upbringing!).
From the moment they are born, a child begins to learn about the world around them, and this includes the people in it. You may have heard that "you can never hold a baby too much," and this is true. Being largely incapable of actual conversation and deeper understanding until a few years after they're born, babies relate to the world in the most instinctual methods of comprehension. They understand if their love and belonging needs are being met or not. They crave physical attention and human touch as love is action. They pick up on verbal tones, learn to sense their meaning, and learn to read faces before they can ever speak words in return. The experiences during the period in which a child is fully reliant on others will shape them into the person they are as teens and adults. This is why consistent attention and care are so important.
A child who has irresponsible caretakers may be left alone often or not be fed or changed when needed. They cry and cry and hope for someone to help them. When no one arrives, or they arrive too late, this baby's mind is learning that the world is a painful place in which there is not going to be anyone there to love or care for them. They feel isolated, lonely, and afraid, and this can severely impact their brain growth and development for years to come, and negatively impact their ability to feel happiness among other things. They never learn at this important age to form bonds and to care for those around them because they don't experience it themselves. They have to be shown by example. Those infants who are held regularly, played with, and cared for can be better able to experience deep connections with their parents or caretakers. They may grow up with a far more positive world view. They are also likely to develop skills to form healthy and appropriate relationships as they grow older and make friends and find even more loved ones.
Those who have gone without learning how to form proper social relationships and who experienced impaired cognitive and emotional development as a child often have difficulties. They have been found to exhibit antisocial and delinquent behaviors as children, teens, and even adults. They may often show difficulty in the areas of language development, intelligence levels, and other social and cognitive skills.
With support and treatment, many can overcome the instilled negative beliefs and responses stemming from their infant and child-aged years. The results vary depending upon all of the numerous factors at play in a person's life experiences that can span decades. At the core, though, research does point to a lack of love and affection causing potentially permanent and life-long damage.
Neglect In Adults And The Elderly
Needless to say, age does not always limit when the lack of positive social interaction can be damaging – that is to say, it is not just when you are a child that this can be problematic and detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Loneliness and social isolation in those who need to feel love as adults have been shown to coincide with chronic health conditions and a decrease in overall health for those in their fifties and above. Older individuals with less social interaction and support were shown to have a higher probability of being hospitalized due to health concerns, having longer lasting stays when in a hospital, higher blood pressure, and a higher rate of morbidity and mortality. The potential damage to older adults without healthy relationships and a support system was even compared to the health risks of smoking. The risks of depression were significantly higher as well as the risks of developing conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Aging and potentially becoming less healthy over the years can be difficult enough as it is. Fortunately, the benefits of having loving and affectionate interactions with those around you can help reduce some of the stresses and negativity associated aging. Older individuals with families, children, grandchildren, or even good friends stand a much better chance at having improved health in their later years. Those who are lonely and isolated, either child or adult, whether by lack of a support system or their health concerns being severe enough to limit their mobility and interactions with the world, typically don’t fare as well. Having people around you to lend support, positivity, and friendship makes each day a bit easier to cope with. Being able to spend time with and feel support and love from a loved one also gives an individual something to perk up and look forward to despite any conditions they may currently be struggling with.
What Does Love Look Like?
Human beings thrive off of social interaction and forming relationships, regardless of whether it's with a friend, a relative, or a pet. People have an inherent need for experiencing strong bonds and needing love to avoid the detrimental effects of real or perceived isolation and abandonment. The type of love an individual craves determines the course of their entire lives. Without it, it's very likely that a person will completely lack any drive to fully live their lives and may even experience depression and other health concerns.
Those who desire families will be provided with a lifetime of experiencing the joys of parenthood and often marriage as well. Individuals who enjoy meeting others will pursue a lifestyle that allows them to come across many different people from many different backgrounds. They will have a variety of relationships and experiences expanding their understanding of other human beings and other cultures. Those who aim for finding romance are satisfying their physical needs regarding the inherent impulses to procreate as well as enjoy the thrills of passion and intimacy with another individual. People who love animals may not only be able to provide a loving home for a pet in need, but they can also reap the benefits of that often unconditional and loving bond. Pets have even been proven to lower stress levels, improve blood pressure levels, help us just plain feel good by increasing overall happiness, and help boost emotional and social development in children. Oddly enough, even a love of something material such as money has its benefits when it comes to inspiring people to work hard to achieve their goals and succeed in the financial world.
What Does Affection Look Like?
Affection can be defined as "any touch intended to arouse feelings of love in the giver and recipient." This can be anything from a kiss with your significant other or spouse to holding hands with someone close to you. Hugging, holding hands with someone, holding a puppy or a baby, or even just stroking someone's arm or back qualifies as physical affection. These are done with the intent to express our love for another person or animal. Even among friends, a hug or a pat on the back signifies positive emotions for the other individual. All of these gestures are necessary for building strong bonds in our relationships.
How we express affection differs person to person, day to day, circumstance to circumstance, and is certainly not limited to physical affection like touch. Not everyone is comfortable with giving or receiving touch, and that’s ok! Examples of non-physical affection can include genuinely listening to someone, making them a meal, offering advice when asked, buying them their favorite movie to watch, being open and honest with them, doing a hobby with them that they or you both enjoy, and so much more.
Why We Need Affection
To love and to feel loved and to feel special in some way is important. And, to express those sentiments and be the recipient of such actions confirming love are essential in cementing the love and the bonds with those close to us. Gestures of affection help an individual more easily feel the love that someone has for them. As stated in the studies referenced above, physical touch is practically a necessity for human wellbeing and meaningful relationships. In fact, physical touch (including our own) reduces pain – this is why we often instinctively grab or gently touch a part of us that has been injured, such as if we bash our foot into something accidentally or hit our head on something.
In a romantic relationship, a lack of affection or intimacy can cause doubts and feelings of neglect in a partner and lead to conflicts and concerns, as well as point to possible deeper issues in the relationship or within yourself. It's okay to tell your partner, "I need love and affection in this relationship" because those two factors are the backbone of a healthy bond to last you a lifetime. Love and affection are expected when dating or exclusively being involved with another person, especially in more serious and long-term partner commitments. Family members can have close bonds with one another when they're comfortable with showing love and their emotions via hugs and other forms of physical contact. This especially applies to children, who learn to express themselves better as well as feel validated when receiving affection from their parents, siblings, and other relatives. Friendships may not always require as much affection to be strong. Yet, small gestures of an appropriate nature expressing your love and appreciation of someone close to you can go a long way in deepening the level of trust, comfort, and closeness you share with that other person, be they your partner, a friend, or family member. And even a small gesture can be such a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Love may be the desired emotion itself, but affection is the key to expressing it to those important to you in your life. Sometimes, though, we have difficulty expressing our love to others or asking others to express their love to us. Online therapists and in-person therapists can help you learn tools that are most beneficial to you so that you feel comfortable giving love and asking for it.
How BetterHelp Can Support You
If you're still curious for more information on love, affection, and how to properly express these sentiments with your loved ones, BetterHelp has online counseling resources available to guide you on how to process your emotions and the expression of them to better your relationships. Our over 20,000 mental health providers are vetted, licensed, experienced, and have a plethora of knowledge, tools, and advice at their disposal to help with whatever your needs may be. With the convenience of flexible scheduling as well as being able to access the website from the comfort of your own home or from wherever you may be at the time, this resource is a great option for learning more about how to express yourself and form even deeper bonds with the most important people in your life. Below are a couple of counselor reviews from people experiencing similar issues.
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