Tend-and-Befriend response: definition, examples, etc.

Faced with pain, grief or uncertainty, how do you react?

Do you go wild, railing against the injustices of the world? Or withdraw to nurse your grief and distress privately?

Much of the existing exploration of human responses to stress tends to focus on these two main reactions: fight and flight. More recently, you may also have heard of two additional responses: freeze and fawn.

Yet even these four distinct responses cannot sum up everyone’s response to trauma and stress. In 2000, a team of psychologists from the University of California, Los Angeles, led by Shelley Taylor, came up with another, more social response, which they called “tender and befriending.”

Rather than directly defying a threat or running away from it, the loving and befriending response is to care for your loved ones by bringing them closer, physically or figuratively.

You could then reach out to others around you, offer support, and take steps to make sure everyone feels calm and safe.

Taylor’s research team found widespread support for the idea that long-standing social ties and newly formed ties can:

  • increase your sense of security
  • build resilience
  • help you find the strength to heal and move on

This idea of ​​reaching out and befriending, which stems in part from their personal observations of how some people respond to stress, eventually became a theory backed by evidence.

Fighting and fleeing (or freezing, for that matter) have pretty clear benefits, especially in the context of evolution. If you defeat a threat or manage to escape from it, you survive to face another day.

Of course, breaking free alone could separate you from the rest of your party. It not only costs you the security advantage in numbers and cuts you off from physical and emotional support. It also puts vulnerable members – young children, the elderly and the sick – at greater risk of harm.

Humans have a strong instinct for self-preservation. But for many mammalian parents, especially the human variety, the desire to keep their children safe can outweigh the urge to save themselves first.

The tender and befriending response seems to have its roots in this instinctual need to protect children and to affiliate with others for greater security.

That said, you can easily apply it to everyday life, whether you have children or not.

Just think of a time when you tried to handle a problem on your own, then compare it to a time when you turned to loved ones for help or a time when you reached out to offer help to someone going through a crisis.

Affectionate and friendly behaviors may appear more recognizably after a major crisis or trauma.

For example, let’s say a couple is hospitalized after a serious car accident. A close friend could look after their children while the couple recovers.

Another example would be the survivor support community that springs up after an earthquake destroys an entire neighborhood.

But the “tend and befriend” response isn’t limited to large-scale events. It can appear in Daily Challenges as well as in Extraordinary Circumstances.

For example, you reach out and bond when you:

  • offer to pick up groceries and prescriptions for older or immunocompromised neighbors
  • invite your new neighbor to stay for the duration of a severe winter storm
  • bring your family into the kitchen to cook dinner together after a miserable day at work
  • send your kids and their cousins ​​to play in the garden with snacks so your sister can share her recent relationship struggles
  • gather a group of colleagues for mutual support after your boss announces the closure of your office, with only a few opportunities to transfer to another branch

In some cases, this response may occur more as a follow-up to your initial stress response.

For example, let’s say you’re driving home from a friend’s party when your ex comes up behind you, grabs your arm, and tries to pull you to his car. You fend them off and run, using both your fight and flight responses.

Once you arrive at your friend’s house, you explain to him what happened, you let him comfort you and you spend the night where you feel safe. Their support helps ease your fear and distress, and in the morning you feel much calmer.

Experts have offered a few potential explanations for the tend-and-befriend response.

Gender roles in early human hunter-gatherer societies play an important role.

Certainly, some women hunted, but they often had other responsibilities closer to the camp, especially when they were pregnant, breastfeeding or caring for young children.

People with babies and toddlers couldn’t easily escape or fight back – but they could unite to protect themselves and create a stronger group. Together they could defend themselves more effectively and survival became more likely.

Hormones are also involved.

During stressful or frightening situations, your body produces a number of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which help prepare you to face the threat. It also releases oxytocin, a hormone linked to bonding, attachment, and trust.

Higher levels of oxytocin can inspire you to seek companionship and socialize. Still, estrogen — a hormone found in higher levels in women — can enhance the effects of oxytocin.

As a result, women may be more likely to care for loved ones and befriend others in times of crisis.

Feeding children and loved ones can also activate the reward system in your brain, reinforcing the same behavior in the future.

Keep in mind, however, that the tenderness and friendship theory does not suggest that females never show aggression when threatened or stressed – only that female aggression seems less combat-related. or on the run.

It is also important to recognize that this response is just that – a stress response, not a marker of parenting skills. Anyone can engage in these behaviors, regardless of gender.

That is, the theory does not imply that women are automatically better at raising and caring for children.

Have you ever felt stronger and more optimistic during a crisis just because you had a loved one by your side?

Experts consider social connection to be a basic human need, and many to research highlights the effects of loneliness and isolation on physical and mental health.

Humans generally do not succeed on their own. Loving and befriending represents a choice to come together, to approach challenges as a stronger whole, and to offer a helping hand to all who need it.

The connections you make with others can:

  • offer protection and support
  • improve your physical health and emotional well-being
  • stimulate empathy
  • promote a sense of belonging
  • lead to personal growth
  • remind you what you value most in life

Learn more about the benefits of friendship, and how to get them.

Admittedly, this answer is not always ideal. You won’t always want to reach out and befriend, at least not right away. In some situations, you may choose to deal with a conflict or threat directly before turning to loved ones for comfort and support.

Also, everyone needs some alone time, and it’s perfectly fine to take a short break and recharge during a tough time.

Just know that the support of others box make a big difference, whenever you choose to search for it.

Loving and befriending doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but you can always learn to embrace this response when you think it might have benefits.

An important step? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s okay if you can’t handle everything on your own.

If you feel uncomfortable when you need help, you can always try to offer something in return. Here is an example :

“Any chance you could come help me entertain the kids tonight?” I have trouble getting out of bed. I’ll take yours for one night next week once I feel better.

Asking others what they need can also go a long way. They may find it just as hard to ask for help, so offering your help — or just letting them know you’re available — can help you forge a connection that will benefit both of you.

During times of difficulty and distress, you may find yourself turning to loved ones or cultivating new connections with people facing the same difficult circumstances.

At the heart of the loving and befriending response is a sense of security and hope. Things can look pretty awful in the moment, of course.

Still, tapping into the strength of loved ones who support you and offering your own physical and emotional support when possible can help you deal better with turmoil and pain.


Crystal Raypole writes for Healthline and Psych Central. Her areas of interest include Japanese translation, cooking, natural science, sex positivity, and mental health, as well as books, books, and more books. In particular, she is committed to helping reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. She lives in Washington with her son and an adorable recalcitrant cat.

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