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A sense of connectedness for men was hypothesized to be based on relationships that emphasize forms of social comparison, whereas a sense of connectedness for women was hypothesized to be based on relationships that emphasize forms of intimacy and physical proximity. women, relationships that emphasized reliable alliance and not guidance contributed to social connectedness. For men, relationships that emphasized reassurance of worth but not reliable alliance or opportunity for nurturance contributed to social connectedness. Differences in how women and men construct social connectedness are discussed in terms of counseling implications and future research.
People spend considerable time maintaining existing friendships, developing new relationships, participating in group activities, avoiding social stigmas, and grieving over lost loved ones. These social experiences reflect our daily attempts to satisfy and sustain one of the most fundamental psychological needs — the need for belonging (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Kohut, 1984; Lee & Robbins, 1995; Maslow, 1970]. In counseling, clients often present a cluster of signs and symptoms associated with a lack of belonging, including few friendships, lack of group participation, feeling unrelated to others, and even a lack of connection with society. These experiences are often described in nebulous terms that reflect a long-standing and general dissatisfaction with social relationships as a whole. It is not the loss of one relationship or any other singular incident that triggers these feelings but rather the aggregation of many experiences across a wide range of past and present social relationships. In the past, scholars and counselors have generally placed this cluster of symptoms under the category of loneliness. Loneliness, however, is a broadly defined construct and can refer to acute versus chronic, social versus emotional, or affective versus cognitive experiences (Marangoni & Ickes, 1989; McWhirter, 1990; Peplau & Perlman, 1982; Russell, Cutrona, Rose, & Yurko, 1984; Scalise, Ginter, & Gerstein, 1984). In recent years, social connectedness has been proposed as a psychological construct that better describes this cluster of self-other experiences in women and men (Baker & Baker, 1987; Kohut, 1984; Lee & Robbins, 1995; Wolf, 1988). The purpose of this investigation was to understand social connectedness in women and men better by examining the types of relationships that uniquely contribute to social connectedness.
Social connectedness is defined as an aspect of the self that reflects subjective awareness of interpersonal closeness with the social world in toto (Lee & Robbins, 1995, 1998). This sense of closeness is a critical component of one's sense of belonging and is based on the aggregate experiences of proximal and distal relationships (e.g., parents, friends, peers, strangers, communities, and society). In this respect, social connectedness is an enduring and ubiquitous experience of the self in relation with the world, as compared with social support, adult attachment, and peer affiliations, which represent more discrete, current relationships. Yet like these other forms of belongingness, social connectedness provides a personal sense of identity as well as a sense of place in society (Kohut, 1984; Miller, 1992; Wolf, 1988).
Given this definition of social connectedness, a lack of social connectedness best captures the aforementioned cluster of signs and symptoms that clients often present in counseling. Kohut (1984) described how chronic empathic failures to satisfy the need for belonging in early childhood can profoundly affect one's sense of self These experiences manifest in adulthood as a pervasive feeling of not being a part of society, of not being a "human among humans." Baker and Baker (1987) described such people who lack connectedness as being aloof; detached, and rejecting of interpersonal closeness. Miller (1992) likewise characterized such people as lacking the ability to be interpersonally vulnerable, despite the fact that this may be their deepest longing as narcissistically wounded individuals. Consistent with these clinical observations, Lee and Robbins (1998) found in their research that women who lack connectedness in their lives have lower self-esteem, are less satisfied with their social relationships, perceive their environments as more threatening, and are less likely to assume a social identity in social situations.
Social connectedness has received the most attention from personality theorists and counselors who have advocated that women and men differ in their self-other experiences (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991; Nelson, 1996). Most of this research, however, is based on a broad definition of social connectedness that includes feelings oi intimacy, empathy, and an other-orientation. Chodorow (1978,1989), for example, challenged the traditional psychoanalytic views of healthy parent — child development and argued that girls are more likely to define themselves in relational terms with an emphasis on intimacy and empathy In Tolman, Diekmann, and McCartney's (1989) study of the relationship between mothers and adult children, they indeed found that women had higher levels of social connectedness than men. In addition, women were more affected by the absence of a maternal figure during childhood. Lang-Takac and Osterweil (1992) and Clancy and Dollinger (1993) also found that women define themselves more in terms of intimacy, empathy and physical proximity than men do. Recent studies on social connectedness, however, have found very few clear-cut differences that are in women and men. Lee and Robbins (1995), for example, did not find sex differences in the validation of their Social Connectedness Scale. From another perspective, Floyd (1996) found that when college students were directly asked how close they felt to others, women and men did not differ in their responses. Harter, Waters, Pettitt, Whitesell, and Kofkin (1997) also demonstrated that women are not exclusively "other-oriented" and some may be more "self-oriented" in their relationships. Woike (1994) clarified the possible reason for gender differences when she found that differences in social connectedness could be explained better by motivational factors for communion versus agency
The current scholarly dialogue between Cross and Madson (1997b) and Baumeister and Sommer (1997) has shed some additional light on understanding similarities and differences in the construction of social connectedness for women and men. Cross and Madson (1997b) posited that women seek relationships that promote intimacy and enhance their sense of connectedness, whereas men seek relationships that enhance individuation and separation from others through social comparison. After reviewing Cross and Madson's (1997b) article, Baumeister and Sommer contended that women and men are equally motivated to sustain a sense of social connectedness, but each sex uses different types of relationships to do so. They argue that differences exist because women develop connectedness through intimacy and physical proximity to others, whereas men develop connectedness through social comparison with others. Social comparison in relationships occurs specifically through expressions of competency, power, and status. Thus, the work of Baumeister and Sommer helps to clarify the gender differences found in past research on social connectedness (e.g., Clancy & Dollinger, 1993; Lang-Takac & Osterweil, 1992). Cross and Madson [1997a) also concurred with Baumeister and Sommer's clarification, but they stressed the need for more research on how these different types of relationships contribute to social connectedness.
Considered collectively, the research findings and theoretical dialogues suggest that women and men both value social connectedness, but there may be differences in the types of relationships that women and men pursue to develop or sustain a sense of connectedness. Unfortunately, specific types of relationships that contribute to social connectedness for women and men have not been carefully studied to date. It remains critical that scholars continue to clarify social connectedness as a relational experience and, in particular, the differences in how women and men may construct and sustain their connectedness from existing relationships. Only with such an understanding can counselors begin to better understand and treat male and female clients who present signs and symptoms that reflect frustrations of not feeling socially connected in their lives (Enns, 1993; Nelson, 1996).
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