Support: What it is, what it’s not

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of support. There are few things more frustrating and alienating than reaching out for support and getting something that feels like the opposite, even if support is what’s intended.

I like to say, “It begins with us.”

And this is true. Self-support is the cornerstone of any true support. Sometimes it’s impossible to let support from “out there” truly land if we aren’t first practicing self-support.

But, said one of my dear clients the other day, what if I’m in a place where I simply can’t access my self-support system? What if I’m so turned around and upside down and frantic that I just can’t get to that place in myself?

Of course. This happens. That’s when support from “the outside” can be most valuable. That gentleness from a trusted friend that we can’t seem to manage to give ourselves. That perspective we just never would have considered if left to our own devices. So. Important.

But: sometimes it’s when I’m in need of support the most that I am the most reluctant to reach out for it. In fact, this is usually what happens. The more I feel like a black hole of sucking need and desperation, the less I want to reach out, and the more I get sucked down, down, down into the vortex.

And, sometimes, into that vortex is exactly where I need to go. It’s not about “forcing myself” out of the vortex to ask for help. This doesn’t necessarily feel safe, and I’m also not necessarily in a place where I can receive any external support when I’ve gotten to this point. (More on this in my next post.)

True support meets us where we are. It doesn’t force, criticize, or project. It’s curious, interested; it asks open-ended questions. (See my previous post on true support, here).

There are, however, a few things I’ve learned that can contribute to getting into the vortex of swirling, sucking need that feels like it will never end and will never be met. Here are some I’ve noticed:

1) Calling something “support” that doesn’t feel like support. For example, the internet. There’s more than enough information for any of us to digest on any topic we want to do a search on for the next bazillion years. But information is not the same thing as support. And getting overwhelmed by information definitely doesn’t feel like being supported. Posting a question on Facebook and getting fifty different “here’s what I’d do” responses is not necessarily support; it just might be overwhelm — more to process, more to weed through.

2) Going for support, again and again, to people who just aren’t able to provide the kind of support you need. Different people provide different types of support. One of my ingenious ways of alienating myself for many years was going to people who weren’t able to give me the kind of support I needed in the past, hoping that this time they’d show up for me the way I wanted them to. It didn’t happen. Embracing reality: always a good thing.

3) Expecting people to support you exactly the way you’d like them to, without telling them the kind of support you need. If you just want to vent and you don’t want to be coached, you can let someone know that — even if they’re your coach. I used to have a habit of just accepting whatever support was offered, even if it was so not what I needed in that moment. I’d feel alienated by the other person, but really I was alienating myself by not stating what I needed. (This isn’t always, easy, of course. Sometimes, we’re just not sure what we need. We need to be really, really compassionate with ourselves here. We’ll figure it out.)

4) Thinking we need a LOT of support, when what we actually need is the right KIND of support. (See #1.)

5) Thinking that what feels supportive to others should feel supportive to us — even when it doesn’t. The same week my cat died two years ago, I had a trip planned. I literally had no energy for travel and wanted to be at home with my grief, even though other people told me the trip “might be just what you need!” It wasn’t; puttering at home feeling totally safe to burst into tears at any moment was.

In my next post, I’ll write about what to do — or not do — when we’re swirling in the vortex of need and we don’t know how to support ourselves.

What are your thoughts about support? Where do you look for it? What works for you and what doesn’t? I’d love to know.

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Image is LADY-BIRD © Nikolajs Strigins |