SOCIAL SUPPORT, THE SELF, AND RELATIONSHIP FUNCTIONING IN WEIGHT-LOSS
While the literature on social support and its relation to intrapersonal and interpersonal functioning is ever increasing, there is a complete lack of literature on the role of self and relationship functioning in weight-loss specific support. As such, the broad literature will be discussed and hypotheses regarding weight-loss support will be based on the more general social support literature. Perceptions of social support. Perception of social support is the degree to which a person feels supported and cared for, and is a function of not only the supportive behaviours provided, but the context in which these behaviours occur. Gurung, Sarason, and Sarason highlighted the roles of the support provider and receiver’s characteristics in support perceptions, along with their views of their relationship, and the general situation in which the support occurs. It is important to consider these contextual factors in support perception as research indicates that perceptions of support rather than actual support received are related to mental health outcomes. Social support and self functioning. Higher levels of social support are generally related to better physical and psychological functioning. Individuals who report feeling supported are less lonely, less depressed, and have higher self-esteem. Psychological characteristics may be related to social support in a number of ways. First, social support appears to play a protective role in buffering individuals from stress and psychological dysfunction. Second, self functioning plays a role in the receipt and perception of social support. It is true that personality characteristics may increase support opportunities in reality. Gracia and Herrero found using Structural Equation Modeling that higher perceptions of social support within specific relationships were in part a function of personal variables including lower levels of stress and depression and higher levels of self-esteem.
The suggestion therefore is that while lower levels of social support have a deleterious impact on self functioning, self functioning also has impacts on perceptions of social support. Gurung also found that when an individual’s personal characteristics were more negative (higher depression, anxiety, loneliness, lower self-esteem), this contributed significantly to both perceptions of less support in a stressful situation and lower levels of observed support in the stressful situation. Social support and attachment. Social support and attachment style are intricately related, so much so that some researchers have suggested that perceived support is a consequence of the internal working models regarding the self and others developed in infancy (attachment style). Anxiously or avoidantly attached individuals are unlikely to expect support from their partner based on a history of relationships with others who have been unresponsive in times of need, and so may perceive less support from their partners. These theoretical notions have been supported by much research demonstrating an association between insecure attachment (both avoidant and anxious) and feelings of being less supported. The effect of attachment style on support perception seems to be particularly pertinent when the support is somewhat ambiguous. For the current study it was expected that women who reported higher levels of insecure (anxious or avoidant) attachment would report less frequent and helpful partner support of their weight-loss attempts.
Social support and relationship satisfaction. As outlined earlier, social support is an important part of close romantic relationships. The importance of support in a happy relationship is emphasised further in that individuals who are more satisfied in their relationship are also more likely to provide support to their partner. Collins and Feeney found that perceptions of support within an intimate relationship were coloured by the individual’s beliefs and expectations regarding the relationship and their satisfaction with the relationship. Further, the effect of relationship satisfaction on support perceptions was independent of the actual level of support provided as rated by an independent observer. This highlights the importance of the relationship context in which support is provided.