How to Build A Support System
Author: Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC
Isolation is a major cause of depression in adults. As we move into adult responsibilities: work, parenting,
marriages, we tend to let our relationships fade into the background. You may not be exposed to groups of people in your daily life like when you were younger. Many of us have jobs that are isolating.
The trend to work remotely has increased our isolation. In the ever increasing tasks of “adulting,” self-care often takes a back seat. Self-care includes Physical, Psychological, Emotional, Spiritual, Personal and Professional tasks. A healthy support system plays a role in all of these categories of self-care.
A support system is made up of individual people who provide support, respect, and care.
These are people who are in your corner. They do not judge you or ridicule you. They provide feedback that is genuine and in your best interest. Their support is not self-serving. They have a positive impact on your personal goals. These people may be close friends, relatives, or simply acquaintances. You may talk to them frequently or just occasionally.
Sometimes your support system includes people in your community. Any interaction that is friendly and positive leaves you feeling happier. Frequent enough contact with that clerk, barista, or gym mate, is the foundation of building a network. Any social connection can have a positive influence on your life. Being connected with others is vitally important to your happiness, self-esteem and ability to cope in difficult times. It also has a positive impact on self-acceptance and emotional health.
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Most of us recognize the importance of this but it can be hard to build a network of supportive people, and stay connected to the support system we already have. Life is busy. It’s easy to find reasons why NOT to get together or call or email or even text. The excuse list is long:
- I don’t have time.
- I don’t know what to say.
- It’s been so long since I’ve talked to them.
- It will be awkward.
- They’re probably too busy.
- I don’t want to intrude on their life.
We all need people. I’m often asked how to overcome this list and build a support network?
Let’s start by make a list of who is already in your corner.
Who do you already have in your life? Make a list of ALL the people you currently interact with. This should include family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Think of your home, your work, your community, your church, your gym, your children’s school, your local Starbucks, any activity you do in your life that you are around people. You can also include professionals such as counselors, teachers, mentors, and clergy.
Go through this list and put a star next to each person who is supportive. Write next to their name what makes them supportive. Answer the following questions.
- Do I feel respected by this person?
- Do I trust this person?
- Does this person bring out my best qualities?
- Does this person allow me to feel good about myself?
- Do I leave interactions feeling positive?
Make a point to contact these people and ask how they are doing.
How do I Build my Network?
You may find that your list is much smaller than you’d like. If this is the case, what is standing in the way of you building a support network? You may decide that seeing a counselor or talking with another professional advisor such as clergy or personal coach can help you develop your capacity to connect with others in a safe and supportive environment.
You might need help to identify the roadblocks you have created that keep you from connecting in meaningful ways with other people. A few examples of roadblocks include, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, depression, misguided life priorities, disorganization in your life, anxiety, or difficulty asking for and accepting help from others.
Support systems are only effective if you use them.
Let’s work through the following roadblock example, “I don’t like to rely on others.” It’s hard for many of us to ask for help. Consider the following questions if this is an obstacle for you in using your support system.
- When do I ask for help?
- In what situations have I asked for help in the past?
- When I ask for help, what am I feeling?
- What do I think will happen?
- Do I have negative or positive expectations?
Identify one situation you are dealing with in your life right now that you are overwhelmed with. Look through the list of supporters you made in this exercise, pick one person you can ask for assistance…and ASK.
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Your support system should be just that, supportive. If you find that certain people tend to take much more than they give, if you feel drained after each interaction, this isn’t considered supportive. In relationships there is an ebb and flow to support. Each person takes turns being the supporter as life happens.
However, if this support isn’t balanced it may be time to set healthy boundaries for yourself -See my article: Setting Emotional Boundaries in Relationships.