Social ties, a sense of belonging, interpersonal acceptance & mental health

An article by Secure Start Intern, Inke Jones.

That there is a link between social isolation and psychological well-being has been suggested since as far back as 1897, when Emile Durkheim argued that social integration and social cohesion influence suicidal behaviour1. Since then, smaller social networks, fewer close relationships, and lower perceived adequacy of social support have been linked to depressive symptoms2. Furthermore, two mechanisms have been proposed to explain the relationship between social ties and mental health3:

  1. Social ties can be stress-buffering – Social relationships affect the well-being of individuals under stress via the perceived availability of social support. This is thought to reduce the effects of stress by increasing the person’s ability to cope. Consequently, stressful events may be viewed less negative by individuals who believe that they have a strong social support system, than by persons who feel socially isolated.
  1. Social relationships are beneficial regardless of stress – The degree of integration into a social network is thought to directly affect the well-being of an individual, regardless of whether they are stressed or not. These effects include normative guidance regarding health-related behaviours, enhancement of positive psychological states, increased motivation for self-care, and even hormonal responses. In connection to this, the term social capital has been used to summarise the effects of trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation that may arise from social networks.

In addition to social networks, theories of attachment argue that the relationship children have with their parents plays a very important role in their lives4. Furthermore, Parental Acceptance and Rejection Theory5 suggests that parental acceptance and rejection influence almost every aspect of children’s development, including coping skills, personality, and behaviours. Parental acceptance and rejection are considered the two opposing ends of the warmth dimension of parenting. Acceptance is shaped by warmth, affection, care, comfort, concern, nurturance, support, or simply the love that parents and other caregivers show towards children in their care. Rejection, on the other hand, refers to: (1) cold and unaffectionate, (2) hostile and aggressive, (3) indifferent and neglecting, and (4) undifferentiated rejecting (children belief that their parents do not really care about them without the parents being particularly hostile/aggressive or unaffectionate/neglecting). Each of these expressions has an internal and external component. That is, parents may feel or be perceived to feel warm, cold, hostile, or indifferent towards their children. At the same time, parents may display observable behaviours such as affection, neglect, or aggression towards their children.

It has been shown that rejected children are more likely to develop low self-esteem, a sense of negative self-adequacy, aggressive behaviour, and strong dependency needs—or become defensively independent than accepted children5. Also, children who perceive themselves a being rejected are more likely to become emotionally unresponsive, emotionally unstable, and develop a mistrustful, negative worldview6. More recently Parental Acceptance and Rejection Theory has been extended to also include the effects of acceptance and rejection in the context of other interpersonal relationships such as siblings, peer, teacher and intimate adult partners7,8.

Many children who have experienced simple or complex developmental trauma exhibit the effects of perceived rejection. These effects may include issues of hypervigilance, anxiety, self-hatred, and problems with interpersonal relationships, depression, substance abuse, and suicidality. Whatever children have experienced in order to perceive their parents, caregivers or other attachment figures to be rejecting of them, their beliefs or their behaviour, it is important to respond to these children with warmth, acceptance and understanding in the attempt to rectify their view of themselves, other people and the world in general.


  1. Durkheim E. Suicide. New York: Free Press; 1951. (Originally published 1897.)
  1. Barnett PA, Gotlib IH. Psychosocial functioning and depression: distinguishing among antecedents, concomitants, and consequences. Psychol Bull. 1988;104:97–126.
  1. Cohen S, Wills TA. Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychol Bull. 1985;98:310–357.
  1. Bowlby J. (1969).Attachment. Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books.
  1. Rohner, R.P. (1986). The warmth dimension: Foundations of parental acceptance-rejection theory. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
  1. Rohner, R.P. (2004). The parental “acceptance-rejection syndrome”: Universal correlates of perceived rejection. American Psychologist, 59, 827-840.
  1. Khaleque, A., Rohner, R. P., & Laukkala, H. (2008). Intimate partner acceptance, parental acceptance, behavioral control, and psychological adjustment among Finnish adults in ongoing attachment relationships. In R. P. Rohner & T. Melendez (Eds.) Parental Acceptance-Rejection Theory Studies of Intimate Adult Relationships. Cross-Cultural Research, 42, 35-45.
  1. Rohner, R. P. (2010). Perceived teacher acceptance, parental acceptance, and the adjustment, achievement, and behavior of school-going youth internationally. Cross-Cultural Research, 44(3), 211-221.

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