One of the hallmarks of true, positive and sustainable change (ANY change) is the existence of a support network to assist you in creating new habits and healing from the struggles that have kept you from the life you want to live.
A Support Network is a group of friends, neighbors, mentors, coaches or family members that you can count on to listen discreetly and provide advice, a lending hand or even just an ear to listen. They are the closest people we know and we have 100% trust in their conviction to honor our privacy and personal needs. Support networks have been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, social isolation and even chronic life stress. Support networks aren’t ONLY about your mental health either! All of these psychosocial conditions have actually been linked to an increased risk of coronary artery disease equaling that of the risk from hypertension and high cholesterol!
We talk a lot about community at Motiv8 but having a REAL support network is more than just cheering people on while they are doing well. It’s more than just showing up for the good times and giving attention to people who find success in small moments.
LIFE ISN’T ALL SUNSHINE AND UNICORN FARTS!
We’ve all had the type of friends that like to just talk about successes or accolades, like to laugh and joke a lot, want to only keep the spirit lively and avoid anything negative at all. Maybe it seems like everyone gravitates to them, they seem so easy to connect with, they always seem to ask the right questions, they seem to make others feel important. It’s tempting to think these people may support you in your times of need.
The level of support you’ll find from those types of friends can often just leave you feeling empty or even abandoned once hard times present at your doorstep with nobody there to support you as the fun and positivity go away.
Here are some DOs and DON’Ts for building a support network that will be your cheerleaders when you’re winning AND pick you up when you fall as well.
DO seek out people who are genuine in their interactions with you.
It’s not hard to find the people who are genuine. They are the ones who ask how you are and then follow up with more questions rather than finding a segue to talk about themselves. They are the ones who are the first to call when you tackle a challenge or overcome an obstacle to see how it went and want to know all the details. They want to know about how you’re feeling whether it’s good OR bad. And despite the answer they want to KNOW why. They seek out solutions for you without you having to ask them for their help. THESE are the people to put in your network. NOTE: You may know people who do this for others but NOT yourself. And that’s ok, there are many levels of friendship and not everyone is a candidate for your support network.
DON’T guilt or shame people into supporting you.
We often come across people in our lives who seem like they aren’t living it the way WE would. It’s easy to make assumptions about those people and apply our own principles to what they do from an outside perspective. We want them to “care more”. BUT, that expectation may be setting us up for disappointment. That disappointment can lead to a wish that someone would be different or would act a different way. We may even attempt to “give them a hint” or “teach them a lesson” hoping that they will do what we want and see things from our perspective. Guilt and shaming NEVER lead to building someone’s trust and support though and may even turn a good friend into a foe.
DO seek out people who have already learned your lessons.
There’s no reason to struggle through life figuring things out on your own when the people closest to you have seen what you have. That’s part of being a friend, helping each other out to make life easier! Sometimes that may mean that the lesson you’re in the midst of learning has already been exerpeinced by someone who cares about you. We’re used to learning from our parents, our elders, our teachers but we can learn ANYTHING from ANYONE. Wisdom doesn’t have an age, face or personality. Some of the best people in my support network have experienced my challenges themselves and they are able to understand why I struggle. Even if I don’t end up doing exactly what they have, knowing that I can go to them to ask about their experience gives me strength and keeps me from spinning my wheels.
DON’T choose people to place in your network based on what you think they can do for you.
Sometimes we get caught up in wanting something so bad for ourselves that we put blinders on and attempt to “fix” our situation. That focus on a “fix” can sometimes separate our friends’ knowledge or skills from their actual human side. We start to think about what they could do for us, how they could help us get what we want and we STOP focusing on them as a person. This can lead to friends feeling “used” or disrespected and pulling away from you (the LAST thing you need from a support network) when they feel you don’t care for them anymore.
DO find others who are willing to share their own struggles with you.
Having a support network more than anything else is about developing trust in someone. If the people around you that show support can’t reciprocate by being vulnerable around you, they don’t deserve your trust. Plain and simple. There are unfortunately people out there who seek confidence in themselves by trying to keep you in a vulnerable position. It makes them feel superior. These are NOT people to entrust with your deepest vulnerabilities. Having a support network should mean being willing to give OR receive care from the people you love most. Even if their problems don’t look like yours, you can gain strength, inspire solutions or just be a calm sounding board for each other. Give your trust to those willing to accept your own help rather than feed the ego of a person who just wants to be the hero.
DON’T focus only on filling your support network with people who have strengths you don’t have.
Many times we want to idolize or put on a pedestal the people who have talents, gifts or expertise that we wish we had. When we look at ourselves and don’t see those things we think that the people who do may have all the answers. But, people who have what you don’t may not have come to acquire it the same way you are trying to. Does the super fit person you want to be like know what it’s like to struggle with their weight? Maybe they seem to always be SO happy but, have they ever felt depression to know the contrast? They eat SO healthy but have they struggled with an addiction to food before? We all have gifts as well as skills but don’t confuse the two. They are very different. Someone with a gift for something may not necessarily have the experience of working for it to conceptualize how to help you.
It can be very hard to open up to people and tell them that you are struggling with something. The questions swirl in your head:
What if they think I’m just being too needy?
What if they don’t talk to me anymore or treat me differently?
What if they don’t take me seriously?
What if they don’t know how to help me?
What if they don’t WANT to help me?
I always say…”The what ifs will kill you!” While some of these may be possible, it can actually be freeing to understand who is a “fun friend” and who is a “confidant”. When you are saddled with a hard situation you’ll be so much more at ease knowing who you can turn to than living in a world where you feel you can’t share anything with anyone. That’s a miserable way to live!
Some of these statements may seem harsh but building a network of people you know you can turn to with your problems should be a very scrutinized process. Taking the time to choose wisely now will help you to avoid sharing with people who are not willing or capable of supporting you. Most importantly, knowing the difference between an acquaintance, a friend, and a confidant can save a lot of heartache and disappointment from assumptions about people you thought you knew differently.