Partner's Workshop: Stage Three; Lesson Two

Developing Your Support System

One of the most important things that you can do to regain balance and stability in your life is to develop a healthy support system. And while this term has been largely homogenized over the years, it remains a most valuable aspect of healing. It will be the goal of this lesson to expose the power that comes from developing a healthy support system and to offer insights into the roles that each element of your support system should and shouldn't play in your life.

What is a Support System?

With your participation in this workshop, all of you have at least a sliver of a support system already in place. Many of you have considerably more resources to rely on in times of personal pain and/or tragedy: family, friends, clergy, counselors, support groups, etc. For others, this workshop may be all that you have. Of course, for true healing to take place, this will need to change over the course of the next few months, but it should be a welcomed change.

The key to understanding the role of a support system is not found in the 'support' element; rather, it is found in the definition of a 'system'. It is found in the understanding of how a variety of tools, working together, can provide you with far more support than any one tool working alone. Your goal is to develop a system of resources that you can rely on to help support you through the many different crises that you will inevitably experience over the course of your life. And while most people have at least one or two resources that they can depend on in times of crisis, in cases of spousal abuse/victimization or severe emotional trauma, it is not uncommon for someone to believe that they have none.

There are several obstacles that are commonly seen which make the development of a support system significantly more difficult. Let's explore these now:

Obstacle #1 Shyness

If you struggle with shyness to the point where you fear interacting with new people, or if you lack the confidence/social skills to engage in group conversation...this may present a rather major obstacle in your healing. Why? Because you are left with only the personal resources that you already have access to: friends, family, etc. And while this may be a good base to pull from, the ability to engage in purposeful communication with others who have experienced similar events in their lives can prove to be far more valuable in crisis management. Such as the individuals involved in face-to-face support communities.

What to do about it? Good question. If you suffer from debilitating shyness, there are many different approaches to take in resolving it...but eventually, they all come back to the same thing: overcoming the fears that are often associated with shyness. Fears like rejection, humiliation, hyper-attention and failure.

Obstacle #2 Unhealthy Support

Another obstacle to be aware of is the elements of your current support system that are not actually providing you with support. Instead, they base their actions/advice on the 'misery loves company' theory; or they lack the knowledge to provide you with accurate advice. Although this may be offered with the best of intentions, such support should still be carefully weighed against what makes sense for your life.

Examples of unhealthy support include those who have not yet found answers that have worked for them, and so they broadcast with confidence that such answers do not exist for anyone. Additional indicators for unhealthy support include:

  • Encouraging you to act in ways that violate your values and/or boundaries
  • Forcing you to remain in certain stages of healing (e.g. anger at your partner) because they themselves are not yet ready to move on
  • Parent/child dynamics within an adult relationship (even when the parent is involved)
  • Canned recovery responses, with no effort made to identify with your personal experiences
  • Cult-like recovery approaches
  • No recognition of progress and growth; continual focus on short comings

Obstacle #3 Dependency

As destructive as unhealthy support resources can be to the 'here-and-now' healing effort; developing a dependence for particular support resources can be just as destructive to your long-term health. This dependency behavior is most often seen in relationships developed with counselors, support groups and friendships that include a consistent pattern of 'dump/drain' (i.e. where one person — usually you — consistently dumps your problems on this friend, thus causing a drain of their emotional resources.)

Such dependent relationships will be discussed in more depth later in the workshop.

Obstacle #4 Lack of Resources

One additional obstacle often seen in attempts to develop a healthy system of support is a lack of viable resources. Most often, this is through geographical limitations (e.g. small population), time barriers (e.g. work graveyard shift), or other physical limitations (e.g. no vehicle). When such obstacles exist as a barrier to developing a support system, there is often little that can be realistically done to overcome it. Often, it will be a matter of searching for more creative options in developing a variety of support tools.

What is involved in developing a support system?

For starters, a support system is not limited to people. The goal is to create a web of tools that all work together to provide you with guidance and comfort and stability. This will most often include people — as they tend to be the most effective tools in offering immediate comfort, compassion, understanding and support. But a healthy support system may also include such things as participating in online workshops (hmmm, wonder where I got that from...‹smile›) journaling; developing a relationship with God; developing a relationship with yourself; attending support groups; participating in online discussions/chats; owning a pet; creating a support library; developing action plans for overcoming crises; pen pals; volunteering; and anything else you can think of that allows you to experience comfort and stability in your life.

By developing and maintaining such a balanced variety of support resources, you will have the ability of overcoming a variety of crises — including this current one. It will be your ability to utilize this support system efficiently that will determine the extent of the damage that will be done in any single crisis. Mastering your support system is a life skill that will take some practice.

Exercise Fifteen

A. Make a list all of support resources (people only) that you currently have available to you in helping you to deal with this current crisis? How many of these people have you already turned to for support? What have you found beneficial in their responses? What have you found to be disruptive?

B. List all resources (not people) that you have available to you in developing a balanced, healthy support system. This list should contain at least eight items. Put an asterisk in front of each resource that you are currently using to help you through this crisis.

C. Discuss a time when you were a part of someone else's support system. Was it a positive or negative experience for you? What made it so? Is there anything that you would have done differently? How can you use these insights to further define your own support system?

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