What are social support systems? In this episode, Melissa and Siria discuss why social support systems are important for your wellbeing, and how to assess your current support systems. Get your notebooks out, there are LOTS of powerful questions to help guide you and to make sure you have a healthy support network for when you need it.
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What A Healthy Support System Looks Like And How To Build One For Yourself
In this episode, you will learn about what social support systems are, why they are important for your well-being, and how to assess your support systems. Get your notebooks out. There are lots of powerful questions to help guide you.
Welcome, everyone. We are going to be talking about healthy support systems and how to build one for yourself.
Social support systems are the network of people that help you navigate through life.Social support systems are basically your network of people that help you navigate through life. Click To Tweet
When I think of social support systems, I think of my ride-or-dies or the people that are in your corner that are going to continue to provide you with support, encouragement, care, and respect.
That’s very nice. I was thinking it was more of your people. I feel like I’ve got ride-or-dies but there’s a different level. This is the inner circle of people but even within that, as I was gathering my notes, I was thinking there are some people who are part of my social system that doesn’t necessarily make it to the inner circle or don’t necessarily make it all the way to be considered a ride-or-die yet they are still people whom I would reach out to for help if I needed it.
When I was putting together my notes, I did come across four different types of support we need, which could be why we lean toward certain people for various needs versus others. Even when I was thinking about what a social support system does specifically, it’s providing support. When a person provides you with support, it’s not self-serving. I know that we have talked about how there is no selfless act.
While that may be true, I want to take a moment to point out the difference. Not self-serving is an example of one way. If I’m providing support for you, for example, it comes from a place within me of love and respect. I expect nothing in return. Does it make me feel good when Siria is thriving and happy? Absolutely. In that way, I do get something out of it but there are self-serving people that have been in my social network, for example. At one point, I dated a narcissist.
I didn’t know this person was a narcissist at the time. This person showered me with attention, encouragement, and support. That is until I started to surpass them in my career. At that point, that’s when the relationship went downhill. It was then that I realized that my role in the relationship had been to puff them up and to help ease their security. At that time, I was able to see the connection that the support that they provided me served them more than it did me.
That’s interesting. Do you think that to be a healthy support system, it needs to be equal?
I don’t know if it needs to be equal because when we get into the four different types of support a person can provide, there are strengths that certain people possess, but how can you measure equality in something subjective? I’m not quite sure how would you even begin to make that equal.
That’s something that I would caution anybody about being in transactional relationships because it sounded like that’s what you were describing. He was expecting a certain level of receiving that had to do with where you were and those kinds of things to make them feel better about themselves. When I’m thinking of my support system, I know there are people in my support system that will give freely. It isn’t transactional.
I would caution people to not be keeping tabs, “I took you out to dinner. You have to take me out to dinner. I did you a favor by helping you move halfway across the country. You owe me one.” It doesn’t quite work that way. We’re talking about building these systems, not only building. You will probably have them checking in on your system to see. Are there gaps where maybe you do need more support?
Coming back to this tit-for-tat type of thing, I agree with you. I don’t think that you can tally. I even look at our friendship. You were there for me when Vince and I separated and provided great support for me. How can you even compare that to taking me out or me taking you out to dinner or anything like that? Not only does the tally system not work. Sometimes the support that we provide each other differs in intensity, length, and meaning.
What’s coming up for me is that with that tallying, you’re talking about, “Am I giving conditionally or unconditionally?” I grew up in a family system that had a very conditional love type of training. I’m trying hard to practice unconditional love and giving from a place where I want to give and I’m in a good place to give as opposed to feeling obligated to give. There’s a distinction there. I like giving. I don’t want to feel like I have to.
Why do you think support systems are so important?
It’s one of those things where when things are going well, you want to make sure that this is when you’ve established them because we are social beings. We grew up in social communities with industrialization and all those things. We took away a lot of our systems. Not having those, we have to look at where are we now. Maybe we’re new to this country.
I can tell you when my parents came here. My dad had his support system because his entire family was here. My mom didn’t have anybody. That greatly impacted her ability to make friends. It didn’t help that my dad was super controlling. Ultimately, when I became old enough to speak and have a memory, I became what she latched onto, which is part of what made me a parentified child, having this relationship that was good at the time but, looking back on it, inappropriate in the scope of emotional responsibility that was placed on my little shoulders.
When I think of why it’s so important, when I was younger, I felt like I lacked support but I also realized that I didn’t have the tools, resources, or maybe even the capacity to discern what type of support I needed. As I get older, I’m practicing trying to name emotions or feelings and get to the heart of the matter. I’m being able to say, “This is what I need at this moment.”
That also pertains to social support. I found that there are four types of support that we all need. The first one is emotional support. This is a person that listens and helps you talk through things. This type of support can help us manage emotions, stress, anxiety, and depression. The second is tangible support. This is where a person might help you with physical problems. Let’s say you need help moving, or you need a babysitter or a ride to or from somewhere. That’s where that comes in.
Third, you have informational support. This is for anybody that’s going to give you some advice, guidance, or information that’s going to help you solve a problem or a challenge that you’re facing in your life. Lastly, the fourth is social support. This is that sense of belonging, security, acceptance, love, and connection that we all seek.
Knowing that there are these four different types of needs that might surface throughout our lives when I’m looking at our social support systems, specifically mine, I realize that I have you to lean on for emotional support more than maybe other people in my circle. Understanding these four needs helps you look at your support system.
You might see, “There’s a gap in my social support system. I don’t have anybody that serves that informational support. Whom would I know or who could I lean or turn to that could provide that type of support for me? Maybe it’s a counselor or something like that.” Being able to identify which need needs to be met, you can then start to figure out how you might find someone to help fill that need.
What’s interesting about this, too, is that as you’re looking at the support, if you have that emotional support, you may not see your gap. You might not know what you don’t know. You need to hire a business coach, you need to get somebody to help you with your branding colors because they’re all over the place, or whatever it is. If you have people whom you can trust for that social support or emotional support, you can ask them to reflect, “What do you see that might be beneficial here? What am I not seeing?”
It could be like, “It sounds like you’re spending a lot of time here. What if you delegated that? What would that look like? Have you thought about seeing a counselor?” That’s not necessarily a bad thing to have somebody reflect on you because we all need to know what our limitations are. One of those things that can help you is having somebody else look and say, “Maybe you have a little bit of a gap or a blind spot that you’re not seeing.”
I do like that because we only know what we know. Having someone shed a light on that is super helpful as long as you’re open to receiving it. I’m thinking about why it’s so important to have these strong and healthy support systems as a people pleaser. If there are any fellow people pleasers out there, I anticipate there are quite a few. I was like, “Siria is raising her hand here.” We struggle here with our support system because we don’t want to rely on or impose on other people.
If you’re unsure whether you should seek out support within your support system, you might want to ask yourself the following questions. The first is, “When should I or do I reach out and ask for help?” The second is, “In what situations have I sought out help in the past?” Third, “What positive outcomes have I personally experienced when I’ve had the courage to ask for help?”
Those are some powerful questions.
Thank you. It’s what I do for a living. As people pleasers, when you’re talking about leaning into someone, we’re happy when someone comes to us for help because we like to please people, yet when we’re in need of some support, it’s hard to reach out to others. Asking these questions helps put into perspective that you’re not imposing on someone.
I remember when I first opened up to you about things that were going on in my life. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of dread, not because I was sharing it with you but because I was like, “I’m ruining her night. Why would she want to listen to this?” I remember that you thanked me for being open, honest, and willing to share that with you. I was so taken aback by that. I always anticipate the outcome is going to be like, “Here’s Melissa bitching again,” but you invited me and created that space. You were like, “Thank you so much for sharing.”
Part of what you’re talking about is feeling, “Here’s somebody who is safe that I can talk to.” Another part of these social support systems and all of the different ones like emotional, tangible, informational, and social support, the thing that we’re looking for is, “Where do we belong?” Belonging is such a huge part. Brené Brown, whom Melissa and I love, is incredible. She was talking about how in the research, they found that belonging and fitting in are two different things. Fitting in is you trying to make yourself be something else.Belonging and fitting in are two totally different things. Click To Tweet
It’s so negative for us when we’re trying to do that but when you belong, you’re looking at these systems, “I belong here. This is the right place for me to be.” You’re invited to be your full self and show up fully. Part of that can be giving space to other people. I love being someone whom people feel comfortable enough to say, “Can I work this out with you?” I like being part of a group. I like being able to provide resources because this big old brain of mine has got all kinds of information in there that might help somebody at some point.
You coming and asking for an ear to lean on was a bit of an ego boost but it was also showing, “I’m living into one of the things that I value and showing up for my friends in this capacity.” That’s why I could thank you for that but it’s a two-way street. I can’t do that if you’re not willing to share. You won’t do that if you don’t feel safe with the person whom you want to share this information with because even though we tell you a lot here on the show, believe it or not, that doesn’t always happen when you’re talking to people one-on-one.
I’ve mentioned it before, even in conversations with my father, in terms of the reason why our relationship was so stifled. I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable. When we’re talking about social support systems, you do want to find people that you trust and where you do feel safe but that also should be reciprocated because since I opened up to you that day, we were friends before but I feel like that’s what kick-started our deeper BFF friendship.
Each time that there are more personal disclosures, the more you feel that connectedness and that you feel like, “I’m showing up.” That’s the value for me. The value of connection is huge. I want to have that in whatever space I’m in. I’m here with you. I’m giving you my attention, not me being divided up into many different things. That’s something that I would want to highlight as part of the benefit of being aware of what your social systems are looking like.
If you’re feeling like, “I don’t have all these great groups of friends. I’m feeling like I don’t have a big network because I don’t like telling people my business,” or whatever it is, I’m going to give you a tool that I was thinking about that seemed to be helpful. Do a diagnostic check on yourself. I like this tool called the Wheel of Life. I went ahead and did my Wheel of Life to show you.
It has these different categories that we all have in life. It goes through health, career, love, spirituality, family, money, fun, and friends. I’ll post the example that I did. You rate it 1 through 10. In the digital app that I like using, you go, “How do I feel about it?” This is how you feel about it. My love is at an eight, which is a high one for me, but if Matt and I got into a fight, that could go down to a four. It’s the snapshot of where I’m at.
The reason I wanted to bring this up was so you could use this tool to look, “Whom do I have in these areas of my life? Do I have support when it comes to health? I do.” If I wanted to have an accountability buddy, I can be like, “Let’s do that thing again where we try to show up.” That was a health thing. That was somebody whom I felt comfortable with. Sometimes people are going to be able to be in multiple categories, and sometimes, they’re not.
It’s seeing, “If I’ve got these different wedges of my life, how does my circle look?” My circle is looking not too shabby but I can at least take a look and go, “Who do I turn to when I need career advice? Do I have somebody in my circle for this? I do.” I’m fortunate that I have these mentors but they’re not necessarily inner circle people. They don’t know all of the ins and outs of my life but they are people whom I trust that I can say, “Can I run this by you?” It’s knowing those people are available to help.
To add to that, when I was thinking about how would I go about building a healthy support system, I would first start looking at who I already have in my support system. It can be family, friends, and coworkers, but then as I was thinking about my social system, I was thinking, “How would I even know if I consider this person to be a member of my support system? Is this person truly in my corner?” This is an exercise I invite you to try. You can make a mental list.
If you are like me, you have to jot down and write the names of people that you believe are in your support system and ask yourself the following questions for each person, “Do I like who I am when I’m around this person? Do I trust and value this person? Does this person help bring out my best qualities? Lastly, do I leave interactions feeling positive and good about myself?”
If you do that for the people that you believe to be in your support system currently, they have to hit yes on all four questions. If they hit yes on all four, then that person is a member of your support system but you might also notice what you were mentioning, “Do I have someone I could turn to for career advice?” If you don’t have someone currently in your support system, how would you go about including people that may be outside of your support system?
DeborahByrnePsychologyServices.com invites you to use five more questions for you to consider if you’re looking to expand your support system. 1) List three support people, groups, or communities that you would like to have in your life or your support group. 2) Describe how each of these can help you emotionally, tangibly, informationally, and socially. 3) List any barriers to utilizing any of your support systems. 4) List the ways you could better utilize your support system. Lastly, 5) How could your support help you with a problem? If you’re looking for who you might consider, those are some questions you might want to ask yourself.
There’s a group out there for everybody. You have to put in a little bit of that work to find what that is, whether that’s looking for a relationship or a friendship. You have to be willing to ask the naked girl to go bra shopping with you. You have to be willing to put yourself out there in weird ass ways like that.
I agree with you but at the end of the day, relationships ebb and flow, and so too are the individuals that we would consider to be part of our support system. Look at your friends throughout the course of your life. Some fall off. Some stay on. It reminds me of MySpace’s top eight.
You’re aging us.
For those that don’t know, it’s the social platform that came before Meta. On MySpace, you had a lot of customization. People would put on their favorite music. There was a section of your top eight friends. It was very important that your best friend made you their number one and vice versa. It would cause a lot of drama. My point is that we move people in and out of our top eight based on where we are in our relationship with them. That’s how I see support systems.
Someone might serve as a part of your support system. Perhaps they move away. Maybe it’s harder to be able to get that emotional or social support that you once got before. Maybe go down two different paths, and that’s okay. If you’re looking at, “Should this person remain in my social support system or not?” look at how you’re feeling. Observe how you’re feeling. If you are finding yourself feeling drained or depleted, or you leave unhappy or disappointed with yourself and maybe upset with some of the decisions that you made in your life or where you are in your life, it may be time to remove that person from your top eight.
I can’t believe we made a MySpace reference here.
I brought it back.
You’re the only one. That’s funny but it is a good way of looking at it and seeing that people are going to rotate. That’s okay. Your interests are going to change. Your favorite shows are going to get canceled.
I’m sorry for your loss.
Thank you. I appreciate that. People are going to move away. That’s why you need to check in to see, “How is my support system?” There are professional resources out there. Some people don’t want to do that because they’re like, “I should have all of this.” Why should you? You moved to a new city, or you started a new career. I can tell you that when I started to be a lawyer, I didn’t know any lawyers until my first week of law school.
How was I going to have that informational support for something that I had never done before? You have to try and find those things. I would not shame you into thinking that you can find all of these things organically. It might be that part of your support system is paying for a therapist, paying for a coach, or paying for these other relationships that might be needed at the moment. That’s okay.
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