Why Our Tribe Impacts Our Individual Health

by | Jul 30, 2019

Photo by Chris Perry

“We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding ‘tribes.’ This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.” – Sebastian Junger, journalist, author, and filmmaker

Our gang used to be our salvation. Our relationships to ourselves are vital to our thriving but not the rugged individualism many cultures espouse. We cannot fully divorce our individual mental/emotional/spiritual health from our involvement, or lack thereof, with a tribe and community. When we share with others, we are more connected. Throughout history and entombed in mythology, it has been a human imperative to pass down stories, to connect. The point is not to be absorbed by one’s communities and tribes without focusing on a relationship with ourselves, too. As courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy  researcher and author Brené Brown said, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

  • A 2010 analysis at Berkeley of 148 studies linked stronger social ties to a 50 percent reduction in mortality rates – likely due to reduced stress and having resources to rely upon.
  • Social isolation is one of the main risk factors associated with suicidal ideation and acts. Belongingness is the antidote.
  • As friend, cultural anthropologist, and teams leader Philip Folsom says with 100 percent accuracy, “The time of the lone wolf is over”, and it never truly existed. As people who work with and/or study wolves in the wild will tell you – the myth of a willful, independent, headstrong lone wolf is a myth. Wolves must exist in packs in the wild to survive. The lone wolf perishes.
  • Research conducted at Brigham Young University identified social isolation is as threatening to individual health as obesity is. They also found loneliness is on par with alcoholism or smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of riskiness.
  • Social media can be a catalyst for finding a group of people one connects with or shares values with, but digital communications is not enough. We need to share energy fields with our tribe – through touch, looking into one another’s eyes, and attuning to one another verbally and non-verbally.
  • Story sharing, as only communities of people can do, is an ancient mode of healing and belonging. As Jungian analyst and author Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run With the Wolves) said, “It is deadly to be without a confidante, without a guide, without even a tiny cheering section.” She also said, “Though none of us will live forever, our stories can. As long as one soul remains who can tell the story, the greater forces of love, mercy, generosity, and strength are continuously called into the world.”
  • If we can help our communities and tribes destigmatize mental illness and shame, we can save lives. Because of stigma, many people, according to the World Health Organization, do not share their struggles and stories. We can help our tribes seek help.
  • Spending time with your tribe boosts oxytocin, a hormone generally associated with the promotion of feelings of love, bonding, and well-being.