If you have any doubt about the healing power of a small group, listen to this.
I recently read research about what to do with young adults who have grown up without a loving attachment to adults.
As you no doubt know, the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby first proposed what became known as ‘attachment theory’: that infants are evolutionarily ‘programmed’ to form attachments with their caregivers from birth.
Without a loving attachment and close proximity to these caregivers, they are unable to form loving, intimate and lasting relationships. He also argued that without such early attachments, an individual would suffer from a sense of low self-worth and be unable to trust.
Bowlby, a Freudian, was convinced that this crucial time of attachment was a tiny window in a person’s life: just two and a half years – a timeframe he amended later in his life to five years.
Many subsequent psychologists extended these ideas to say that these early experiences determine how we’re going to interact with romantic partners and our own children.
However, more recently, evidence has emerged from Indiana’s Purdue University that a close-knit group can provide the kind of healing environment that enables someone without that early caregiver attachment to heal, develop a sense of self worth and form healthy attachments to others.
Nelsa Libertad Curbelo Cora, a peace worker with young street gang members in Guayaguil, Ecuador’s version of Watts in California, believes that a youth gang is simply a manifestation of the thwarted human need to belong. “They have an instinct toward oneness, which is why they form gangs,” she says.
Cora has taught young people in street gangs to transform this need for connection into “the power of service, life and love” to a struggling community. Gang members have learned to channel their impulses for creativity and need for recognition away from violence and into small businesses: printing businesses, music studios, pizzerias. The Barrio is now known as Barrio de Paz — Peace Town, and even the most ruthless of gang members have laid down their guns.
To see how powerfully protective a small community can be, I remind you of the classic study of the effect of solidarity on health, conducted on residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Stewart Wolf heard by chance through a fellow doctor that the inhabitants of Roseto had virtually no heart disease. This prompted him and his colleague John G. Bruhn to carry out a thirty-year study, comparing social and dietary conditions of the town with those of their neighbors.
As Wolf and Bruhn discovered, the inhabitants of Roseto had half the heart-attack rate of neighboring towns, but at first glance, there was no good medical reason for their good health.
The Rosetans were a beleaguered group of some two thousand people transplanted from a single Italian town of the same name. When they’d first emigrated to America, few spoke English. For years they didn’t even have a proper Catholic church in which to worship and congregate.
As workers they had been discriminated against by the established Welsh-American citizens and forced to do difficult and dangerous work down quarry mines while being paid far less than other residents.
In terms of the standard risk factors for heart disease, the Rosetans should have been dropping like flies. Many of the men smoked, and most were overweight, as their meals were usually cooked in lard.
Wolf realized that this tiny town was an extraordinary crucible, containing a highly cohesive sense of cultural community almost unique in America.
With the arrival of a British priest to the area, Father Pasquale de Nisco, the town had flourished. Under de Nisco’s constant encouragement, the Rosetans had festooned the town with flowers, built the Roseto band, and created a thriving group of social organizations, from religious groups for all ages to countless number of secular clubs.
One generation later, the cohesiveness of the town broke up; the youth didn’t carry on the sense of community, and before long it began to resemble a typical American town – a collection of isolated individuals keeping up with the Joneses.
By the 1960s, the first Rosetans went on welfare. As these social changes became established, the heart attack rate quickly escalated to that of the national average. As one of the first welfare recipients complained to Wolf: “You don’t understand, doctor; things have changed. People don’t care.”
Wolf and Bruhn found a similar situation when they examined a study comparing heart attack statistics in Nevada with those of Utah. They are neighboring states, their ethnic mix is similar, they both have similarly high education statistics, and to all appearances, Nevada was the more successful state, with 15-20 per cent higher income.
Nevertheless, these state’s statistics on mortality from heart attack were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Nevada had one of the highest death rates in the country, Utah one of the lowest.
The primary difference between the two states was the stability of the social structure and close-knit families in predominantly Mormon Utah, compared with the high degree of broken and dysfunctional family life in Nevada. The weakening of the social fabric, concluded the researchers, had the most to do with the difference in mortality.
Syme concluded that the quality of the connection to one’s immediate geographical cluster is one of the most potent predictors of health and illness.
But I would add that the need is more fundamental – a basic need to connect with a close group.
Consider this when you’re thinking about all the lockdown and isolations that governments are attempting to orchestrate over Covid. Connecting with your neighbors or forming a Power of Eight® group with a batch of strangers this Christmas and throughout the year isn’t just a nice thing to do.
It may actually be a matter of life and death. And, as we now understand it, it’s also a way to heal yourself from painful and loveless beginnings.
If you want to study the Power of Eight® with me for entire year and have my team assign you a group of your own in your time zone, be sure to check out my forthcoming course, The Power of Eight® Intention Masterclass, which starts on February 5, 2022.
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