As discussed by Lynn Anderson, just as there are costs involved in belonging to a group, there are also benefits that accrue from group membership. Although the negative aspects of group membership may capture one's attention more forcefully, the positive aspects are no less common or important. A complete understanding of the purpose of groups requires a consideration of the positive side of belonging to a group. A considerable amount of evidence has documented the physiological, attitudinal, and health effects of social support systems. For example, people who belong to a varied and tight social support network have been found to be in better physical health and to be better able to resist stress than those lacking such support. As examples, one might consider the effects of such popular support groups as Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving as well as lesser known support groups that deal with specific issues such as loss and bereavement. These groups provide the imperative psychological function of allowing their members a new avenue for coping with their problems.
Perhaps the most notable effects of the group on self-definition and identity are observed when these taken-for-granted benefits are taken away. The woman who has defined herself in terms of her marital status can find her identity cast adrift after a divorce. Similarly, foreign-exchange students often report dislocation or disorientation of identity immediately upon their return home. After months or years of trying to establish a new identity based on new friends, new social contexts, or new groups, that new identity is now inappropriate and out of place in their old social context.
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