How do YOU define support?

sup·port (s-pôrt, -prt)  tr.v. sup·port·edsup·port·ingsup·ports

  1. To bear the weight of;  hold in position so as to keep from falling, sinking, or slipping
  2. To give moral or psychological support, aid, or courage to
  3. To be capable of bearing; withstand
  4. To keep from weakening or failing; strengthen
  5. To provide aid in battle

How we ask for and receive support in times of trouble is a critical piece in our healing and progression towards a more fully and compassionately lived life. Even taking a closer look at how we refuse help provides clues to what we really need if we bother to pay attention. Learning to identify what is helpful in how we want to be taken care of by ourselves and others, is challenging as we tend to either say YES or NO to help without much other thought. Much deeper soul level healing can be achieved by taking time to investigate what we really want and by being brave enough to ask for and accept it.

Facing a world full of challenges that are enough to take the wind out of even Pollyanna’s sails, we all occasionally need the assistance, care and support of the people around us. Our friends and family have perspectives that enable us to gain an alternative viewpoint than the one that clouds our view when we are feeling weak or troubled. Giving ourselves the chance to rest and let other people take over some of the physical work speeds our healing and gets us back on our feet sooner. Accepting the physical and emotional help of people who are not entrenched in whatever our current drama is gives us assistance, perspective and room to breathe — if it is really the sort of help that feeds our soul.

But sometimes being able to talk to someone, or having loved ones who are trying to be helpful by getting things done, is not conducive to us moving through our current troubles. We are supposed to be (and want to be!) grateful for what is offered to us but we don’t pause to analyze if it serves us or if it just makes our “helpers” feel better because they did something.  Sometimes receiving “support” results in us feeling empty, unfulfilled and misunderstood instead of rejuvenated and loved.

We often try so hard to not be “needy” that we often cannot even identify what would even be superficially helpful – mush less what keys would unlock room for genuine healing for us. We are afraid to ask for what we desire because we fear being seen as selfish or ungrateful for what is offered.  But rather than being selfish, effectively utilizing the resources around us shows respect for the people who are trying to be helpful and respect for ourselves as it enables movement towards healing.

How we individually define support will change – sometimes rapidly – based on what is going on internally and externally. Sometimes support may look like having people call us for a chat or coffee date; other times it will mean being left alone for awhile – knowing that someone will check to make sure we haven’t gotten buried under a pile of old magazines after a week or two. Support could look like a bottle of wine or a movie or a gift certificate for a bookstore or some housecleaning. Sometimes support extends beyond what our loved ones can offer and we must accept their limitations and support our own healing by getting professional help.

Often times the hardest thing is simply saying YES to offers of meals, childcare, a ride someplace or household help. While these things may not have been high on our list of things we knew we needed/wanted, the fact that someone else took care of them will enable us to put our attention elsewhere. Set boundaries about times for visits/help, assign someone else to organize mass assistance offers, respond by emails instead of phone calls so that you can control when and how you communicate, make wish lists of things you would like to do/have accomplished/or need.  Most of all: LET THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU SHOW YOU THAT THEY DO. In allowing the people around us to care for  us, we begin to see ourselves through their more compassionate eyes allowing ourselves to heal inside and out.

Many of us are raised to be fiercely independent and it can be an incredibly hard thing to ask for assistance much less to accept offers of help. Whether we are in need physically or emotionally, paying attention to what would help us feel better and asking for that from our loved ones allows them to feel connected to us. Receiving assistance can enable us to dedicate time and energy to the deeper healing that only we can do for ourselves. Rather than seeing us as a burden, people will surprise us with their wiliness to lend a hand, and ear, and open heart. We all go through times of needing to be set back on our feet.  If you simply cannot take for yourself without guilt, pledge to “pay it forward” and accept what is offered with gratitude and humility knowing you will have an opportunity to help someone in the future.

But likewise, support should not be something we ask for, or whine about not getting, because we are too lazy, unwilling or resistant to change to pick ourselves up. We need to clarify our personal definition of support and our motives for claiming need of it in order to accept what is offered in a way that helps us gain strength instead of enabling our difficult situation. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and then cry about how no one cared enough to dig us out. We cannot hold ourselves back from healing and growth because we are scared and then place blame on the people around us that they didn’t do enough for us. We cannot use the fact people are stepping in to help us as an excuse for not stepping up to the plate and taking our turn at bat.

People often think that “support” is like a bra — something that holds you together. Based on this errant belief we may desire support because we want someone else to be in charge or reject it because we think we should be tough and not involve anyone else. While we all may go through a time when we need a friend to help hold us together, support is more like a climbing harness – something to catch us when we fall rather than something that we stay in to keep us from flopping around. It is the backup plan for when things are unpredictable, surrounding us with protection that we have put together for ourselves. Now and then we have put more weight on it in order to make our next move, and sometimes it catch us when we lose strength or the unexpected happens. But it is understood that you can’t keep climbing if you just hangout in it.

Sometimes we claim that we are need of support – or we are angry we are not receiving enough of it – when the reality is that “support” is not what we are really most in need of. One of my best friends was going through a divorce with a someone who claimed he never supported her. The problem wasn’t the lack of support – it was that he held her up so frequently that she no longer had legs of her own to walk on. In his love for her, he allowed her to wallow in her depression, anxiety and self-pity instead of kicking her in the butt. She wanted someone else to take control of her life and for awhile he did, even though he had no way of knowing if that was really right for HER. She cared little about herself and her apathy created barriers to helping herself or receiving real assistance. She was in a hole and wasn’t putting a lot of thought into how to get out herself out – much less how to ask someone to help her find a shovel. She, like all of us sometimes, had to hit bottom to realize it is time to stop hanging in the climbing harness and resume the journey.

Sometimes we simply must fall — it is often at bottom that we suddenly realize how much of ourselves we let go of and how distanced from our hopes and dreams we have gotten.  Hard times give us an opportunity to put some thought into what we really want. We can ask whether the standards we have set for ourselves are good enough – or are too high; if the things we thought brought us joy really do and how we really want to live our lives from this place forward. We can begin to investigate what WE want and need, instead of what we think we need to do or be for other people.

We are not alone in these times….our friends and loved ones are standing in the wings ready to offer a hand once we make the decision that we – and our lives – are worth working on and ultimately saving. This is not about anyone taking over for you for the long term – it is about a lift over a mud puddle-or a chasm-until you get your own wings back. The people who care about us hand us a mirror to see who we have been and the potential of all we really are. They can remind us of what is important – and what is not – providing valuable clues into creating a supportive structure around us that enables us to become the best we can be. But it is not up to them to figure out how to fix things or to save us…we must actively investigate what kind of help will enable us to grow, heal and provide insight into what our next steps must be.

As we take the time to ask ourselves what real support looks like for us we learn more about our own inner life and provide compassionate room for ourselves to heal and incorporate the changes that challenges can bring. We can more effectively take advantage of the generosity of others and use our own experience to better serve our loved ones in the future.  Whether it is an illness, a divorce or other times of trouble, the challenges we face give us an opportunity not only to see how we push through, but how we care for ourselves. Listening to and acting on our own needs – instead of being an act of selfishness – enables us to gain strength to heal and ultimately to give back.

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