How to Offer Good Social Support for Those You Care About
Interpersonal relationships can be tricky because there is no single right way to be, and we never take a direct course on How to Be a Good Friend/Partner/Family Member. We just learn by trial-and-error in the background of what we’re actually focused on in our lives. To bring focus to those relationships, you have to be able to adapt and adjust to your friend, partner, or family depending on how you, and they, operate individually. Another influencing factor is similarity of experiences - you can’t expect your 12-year-old cousin to relate to your need to support a spouse with anxiety. However, you can still take the responsibility over yourself to learn some skills, tend to your relationships, and connect with those in your life.
These relationships are so important because we are social beings that actually NEED other people for resources and/or belongingness. Also, in the grand scheme of things, our experiences with other people affect our overall happiness and life satisfaction. I mean just think about it, during the best time of your life, were you alone or with other people? Other people really matter! Here are some ways to give to those in your life in an effort to get even closer.
*In the role I’m describing, it’s important to remember that you are not the focus, but rather they are.* Challenge yourself to give your time and emotional resources to others who may need them. Of course you are important, and being able to ask for help in a time of need is a strength, but more on that later! For now, these are some ways for you to show up and put in your effort for your shared relationship.
1. Reach out to those who play an important role in your life that you haven’t spoken with in a while
Making new connections is important to expanding your network, but what about the people who are already part of that network? Time is illusive right now. How long has it been since you reached out to your work mentor, your grandparent, or your longest friend? Being able to reach out to those in your life shows your emotional availability for them, and that you are there for them in good times AND bad times. You never know exactly what people are going through, but if you reach out, you are extending a supportive hand. Even if the person you reach out to keeps the conversation surface-level, at least you were able to give them that opportunity.
To add to the idea that you never know what people are going through, give yourself without any expectations. Don’t expect everyone to be super responsive. Don’t expect to go through a transformation yourself just by implementing these new skills. Just act them out in an effort to create some momentum in your working perception of emotional availability.
2. Listen first, speak second
Not to sound cheesy, but we were given two ears and one mouth - we should be listening more than speaking. Have you ever had an issue that you really needed to talk about so you brought it to your most valued confidant? Then once you’re in the middle of your story, they continued to interrupt you to cover you with their advice before your full point was made, and then only about 80% of your original thoughts and feelings on the subject were fully expressed? How did that feel? Of course they have your best interest at heart, but maybe you would have made a breakthrough if you had been able to get 100% of your thoughts and feelings out.
When you are able to show up for other people, have patience with them. They may have so much to say. You don’t know the big picture like they do, so allow them to paint an accurate vision before sharing your opinion. Maybe a small detail in their story might change your perspective completely! Each of us has a subjective experience that colors our world. We are quick to recognize what fits into our lives, and what doesn't. In an attempt to shed light on other insights, many people quickly bring up similar experiences before advising what a person should do. Remember that those opinions are subjective. Just because they work for you, doesn't mean they are accurate for someone else.
Moreover, sometimes people just want to be heard and validated about their thoughts and feelings. Don’t jump to the conclusion of giving your advice too quickly. Listen first to understand what they need from this interaction. And if you can’t tell, know that you aren’t expected to read their mind, and there is nothing wrong with asking how you can best support them!
3. Express your gratitude - for them and for your effort
By the end of the conversation, you will understand how much impact you have created. Maybe your simple act of saying “Hi” and checking in with them on the surface level brightened their day. Maybe you learned something new about a person in your life that you hadn’t known before. Maybe you didn’t know how much your friend was struggling with something going on and you were able to be there for them. Regardless of the outcome, express your gratitude for them.
Also take a moment to acknowledge yourself for putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable to any outcome, and finding the courage to give yourself to others. That’s not easy work! But there are so many positives to be gained from supporting others you care about.
Your interpersonal relationships are important to your overall happiness and wellbeing, but like everything else in life, they take effort to maintain. There may not be an exact blueprint for being a good friend, partner, family member, etc., but being a good social support may be a good starting place. You can’t control how other people respond to you, but you can take responsibility over yourself to learn how to best support those who are important to you.
To whom are you thinking of reaching out?
Happy Growing & Best Wishes,
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