When you think of a support system, often what comes to mind is what you see in movies, television shows such as Friends, or even photos on social media that appear like the ideal support system.
I have frequently heard people talk about how they are in a one-sided relationship or that they feel they are there for the other person, but when they need support, the other person is not able to provide the support they are looking for. So how does one go about having a support system that can actually be supportive?
What is a support system?
First, it’s important to understand what a support system represents. You may consider support as people you can call for assistance if your car breaks down or if you just need someone to talk to.
Often, a support system is a term used to describe the people around you that are there for support in either an emotional or physical manner—people you can rely on such as family members and close friends.
Why is a support system important?
While friendships are great to have, a support system is more than that—that’s what makes it a system. A support system is essential to have because it provides a variety of outlets if one is not available or effective.
A support system is necessary for your mental health and can affect how you function in your day-to-day life. It can help you navigate stressors, indecisiveness, anxiety, and much more.
Do you know what you want from your support system?
Take some time to consider what exactly you want from a support system. Are you looking for a group of friends who just listen to your concerns and allow you to express your emotions? Are you searching for advice on how to navigate an issue? Perhaps you are looking to grow within your career or expand your knowledge.
You may change your approach to developing an effective support system depending on what you are looking for. An important aspect to note: developing your support system in all areas will give you a healthy advantage. Therefore, no matter what you need or when, you will not be scrambling to find support, rather you will already know where or who to turn to. As an example, a car will not function with one wheel—it needs all four to move.
You may be reaching out or prioritizing one type of support at the moment, but keep other options close as well; you never know when you may need a different type of support.
The following are the top five practical aspects for beginning or maintaining a healthy support system:
1. Are these close people in your life worth being there?
If you gave them the option to either be there for you or not be in your life, would they choose you? Do you notice that they are typically unavailable and have something else going on when you need support?
Our choice in who we have as close friends can be the biggest reason why we lack support so is your choice in the friends you have really the underlying cause as to why your support system really is not supportive?
Consider what your definition of a friend is and evaluate your current network to determine who fits within that definition. How many true friends do you have or are they acquaintances?
On the other hand, maybe this is a sign that these friendships exist, but you should strengthen your support and current bonds. Reach out by phone, video, or make an effort to connect to those you care about more often. Consider opening up and being vulnerable to those you trust.
2. Family can still be an important part of your life but not be your support system.
Some people know that their family is unable to provide the validation, encouragement, or type of support that they need—and that is okay. That does not make them any less a part of your family.
Sometimes those who you hold dear in your family are incapable of offering the support you need. Perhaps they truly cannot empathize or understand the problem that you are experiencing.
For those who do not have families they can rely on in any sense or who are harmful, there are other people that could be that support.
3. How do you determine healthy support from a toxic one?
In general, a healthy relationship or connection will provide you with comfort, security, happiness, trust, honesty, self-esteem, effective communication, encouragement, and conflict-resolution.
On the other hand, unhealthy support may cause more stress than relief. It may lead to more tension, criticism, manipulation, leave you feeling obligated or guilty, and could begin to negatively impact other areas of your life.
It is important to be aware and acknowledge if you are experiencing the characteristics of unhealthy support so that you can properly address it.
4. What if you want someone to be a part of your support system but they are not living up to your standards or have fallen off the radar?
The answer is simple really; communication can help others understand your needs and what you are looking for. It does not mean your expectations will be met, but it does help others understand your own boundaries.
If the individual communicates that they are unable to provide support because they are going through their own challenges, perhaps they need space or support during this time. Having a good support system is important but also being a good support for others is just as important.
If you try to talk with the person that you desire to be a support system and they are unwilling, then it may be time to move on or not consider them as a part of your support system.
Start evaluating your support system and how it can be improved. Do you need to expand your network or redefine the people around you? On the other hand, do not forget to communicate and be willing to ask for help. There are people out there who are willing to help or are looking for a stronger network as well.
5. What should you do if there is no one willing to really be there upon trying to reach out?
This may be a great time to turn to other resources of support besides family and friends. Other support can even include professional connections such as co-workers that may help relieve stressors from the job or support career growth.
Furthermore, networking events, peer support groups, meetups for common interests, pets, your own personal space or a place, and even therapists are examples of other healthy support systems.
As well, a therapist can help you in your time of need until you are either able to deal with the stress on your own or develop the appropriate support system in your life.
Therapists begin with the desire to help people develop ways to cope with challenges. Just remember that counselors are a great support system to have for a period of time but not the only support. A therapist’s goal is to no longer be needed.
Reflect on the following questions:
Do you have healthy social support and outlets?
Do you need to strengthen bonds with people that you are already surrounded by?
Are there others who have expressed their need for your support?
A licensed mental health professional or online counselor can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward if you feel like you are struggling to connect or strengthen your social support.
To book our counseling and coaching services visit: Nayaclinics.com/book-online
About Sam Nabil
Sam offers therapy in Boston and Boston Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety. Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university, Yahoo News, USA Today, Marriage.com