5 Ways to Be Supportive

A support system is one of the most crucial, foundational elements to health psychology. Having a support system can help reduce stress which is an underlying cause of most physical, mental, and emotional issues because it compromises your immunity and strains your functioning. Support systems are any family member, friend, medical professional or professional guide, etc. who cares about your wellbeing and has your best interests in mind. 

Usually having at least one person as part of your support system is best, but other living beings offer emotional support too. Support systems are also depicted as communal groups like AA, post-pardum mothers, weight loss, grief, group therapy, and so on. No matter what is going on in your life, everyone needs a support system. Who is/are yours?

The “Drama Llama” is a twist on what is often called the “drama triangle.” These three aspects, perpetrator, victim, and rescuer are roles we can fall into. Perpetrators inflict mayhem, victims are the ones who are seemingly always helpless, and rescuers feel obligated to take everything on and fix (which I’ll get to). Likely we’ve all been in these roles before or will be. It’s when they become patterns and part of your identity that the llama needs to go. Without blaming anyone, look out for the drama this llama brings in life. 

So, at one point or another, chances are someone in your life will need extra support. These are 5 big components (in no particular order) for you to consider when offering the best support you can. 

Offering advice is a way of showing we understand and empathize with the other person. So many of us will make connections from our own experience to the other person’s. Great, I like when someone has insight into the circumstances and can speak from having gone through it. Except, when offering advice we want to first make sure someone would like to receive it.

Second, advice giving can easily slip into fixing. For all of the problems in the world, there are fixers who set out to solve them. No one wants to see suffering, so this sense of compassion turns into actively doing something to change it immediately. Changing a situation, especially for someone else, only has so many appropriate times. 

Often, supporters need to allow the person to have their own experience. It might feel cruel to stand by and watch, but it’s how they can learn and develop just like you learned and developed from your challenges. Being passive here isn’t really cruelly standing by and watching either. You are adhering to the needs of the person, giving them time, and doing the other components here as well. 

Also, no matter how identical our experiences seem, we can’t know for sure that the other person is feeling it in the same way. Before starting to talk, listen. 

Listening is so important for reasons stated here. Sometimes this is the best we can offer. So many people want nothing more than to be heard.

Consistency means developing trust that you are reliable. Occasional check-ins with people is another way to be consistent. It shows effort and reminds the person that you’re there for them.  

Clear communication is important when your availability changes (“I’m leaving town for work, but if you need to reach me in the evening you can”) and for reassurance. It’s also important when weighing the gravity of the situation. You may not think what’s happening is a big deal, but make sure their mental health is reflecting that. Keep an eye out for changes in behaviors, or if they’re seemingly handling a tragedy too well. Directly asking if a person is going to harm themselves is worth the discomfort. Clear communication minimizes assumptions.

Evaluate whether you are equipped to handle the kind of support a person needs. You’re not giving up on the person by seeking extra help from professionals. Sometimes people need much more than we can give. This is important for advice giving as well. If we aren’t qualified to give advice, it’s best to find a resource who can. 

Evaluate whether you are able to give the person the time and energy they need. You have to take care of yourself to effectively help others. Simply being the sound board for venting is emotionally draining. Establish healthy boundaries, meet your needs, and assess for burnout. Taking a moment to evaluate also determines what sort of reaction is warranted. Does the person need rest or a pick-me-up? A hug or humor?   

Support saves lives and builds for success. Give what you can, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you like this page, please share it.

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