It Takes a Village: How to Build a Strong Support System

It takes a village to raise a child.
It takes a village to make it through college.
It takes a village to start a new business.
It takes a village to move into a new neighbourhood.

It takes a village to overcome anxiety, depression, or addiction.
It takes a village to survive divorce.
It takes a village to grieve a loss.
It takes a village to make it through a pandemic.

Whatever you are going through in life, positive or negative, it takes a village. Because you are not meant to go through it alone.

During positive times, the people around you enriche the positive moments. Their presence, excitement, and happiness adds more meaning. Since we are wired for social connection, it only makes sense that our joy is multiplied when we share it with those we love.

Think of the time you got that job, who did you call to share the news? Think of the time you got your first paycheck, who did you take out for lunch? Think of the time you had some time off from work, who did you spend it with? We naturally turn to those we love to share the positive moments in our lives. We know that those in our support system not only know the struggle we have gone through to reach this milestone, but they also share our joy and excitement. We know that they are just as happy for us as we are for ourselves. We receive a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment when we can share our joy with those around us. Positive social support and social interaction helps us to live our lives more fully.

In contrast, the support system becomes the glue that holds it together when we are going through hard times. They become our light house that gives us direction. So far in 2020, we have had plenty of reasons to need our support system. The events of this year have been more exhausting, depleting, and challenging than ever before. Not only have we faced types of stress that we had no previous exposure or experience with, the intensity of the feelings of anxiety, anger, and loss reached new levels. Most of us felt like none of the tools in our toolbox were helpful, effective, or reliable. We felt like fishes out of water most days.

When dealing with all the unknown and uncertainty of things around us, we can experience more stress, anxiety, and depression. We can feel inadequate and powerless in solving our problems. Intense emotions alter our sense of confidence in ourselves. Intense emotions changes our perceptions, leading to more skewed and negative conclusions. The fact is, when our emotions are high, our cognition is low. When we get caught up in our negative thinking, the support system can be the healthy sounding board for us. The people in our support system can help us to think through things more rationally, to problem solve more effectively, and to stay present in our lives more fully. Our support system is the reliable and effective resource that can help us throughout dark times.

3 Benefits of Strong and Healthy Support System:

young people want to return to a normal life without alcohol, stop drinking. the member of anonymous alcoholics club share with his story of being addicted

There are many ways we can have a positive and healthy support system in our lives. It can be through family, friends, neighbors, parent groups, mentors and colleagues. Some of those people may have been in our lives since we were little kids; while others may end up being in our lives temporarily as we transition through different chapters in our lives. You may have had a great professor or a roommate in college who helped you through homesickness or challenges of academia. You may have had friends from high school who were at your wedding. You may have new friends as you venture out to parenthood. No matter how long this supportive figure has been in your support system and what brought them into your life, there are few universal benefits to having them in your life.

  1. A Support System Can Provide Wisdom and Guidance:

During difficult times, we often feel stuck. You feel paralyzed and confused where you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel. It gets hard to decide what is the best next step, so you freeze and don’t do anything. A solid and healthy support network can be the reliable people in your lives that help you get unstuck. These people in your circle use their own life experiences, education, and training to share with you to find solutions and coping methods to your problem. Support systems like a coach, professor, or a mentor, can provide you with guidance you need as you work on your dreams. It can have resources that will educate you and inform you of new ways to solve your problem. The wisdom of those around you takes some of the pressure off your shoulders. When you are surrounded by those that lift you up, you get closer to your highest and truest potential. Your support system can play an important role in your personal and professional development.

  1. A Support System Can Provide Strength and Hope:

During a stressful time self-doubt can settle in, leaving you feeling insecure and inadequate. You start to lose a sense of trust and confidence in yourself. You start to question yourself, your abilities, and your capabilities. You get caught in a vicious cycle between doubt and self-criticism. You start to see all that is missing instead of all that you have. You start to see all of your shortcomings instead of all your strengths. A good support system can be your buffer against those tough times. Having those around you that believe in you and cheer for you can give you the confidence to keep on going. They remind you of your strengths and power so you can get back on track. You start to feed off of their positivity and start to distance yourself from doubt and insecurity. Positive people around you can instill hope in you.

  1. A Support System Can Provide Understanding and Compassion:

There will be moments where solutions aren’t readily available. There will be times where you have done all you can that is in your control. There is nothing you can do more. You can’t control the outcome. In those moments, you need connection and companionship. These are the moments where your support system can offer emotional support through empathy, understanding, and patience. Because at times, all you need is just someone to be with you in that moment. Not to offer advice or solution, not to offer comforting words like “it is all going to be OK;” but someone who sits with you because you don’t need to be alone. Brene Brown is quoted to say that compassion is about being able to sit in the dark with others, instead of turning on the light. Sometimes we just want a shoulder to cry on, someone who understands what we are going through and is willing to sit with us in it. Not try to change it, not try to tell us that it is going to be OK, but simply be in the moment with us.

3 Ways to Build a Strong Support System:

Now that you learned the benefits of having a support system in your life both for the positive and the negative moments, it is time to get to working. The fact is to build a solid, healthy, and strong support network, you need to follow some action steps.

  1. Identify YOUR Needs:

Having a strong foundation for your support system starts with you! In order for your support system to work for you, it needs to match the unique needs, goals, strengths, and weaknesses of you. You can ask yourself questions such as “what am I working on right now?” “what are my goals, dreams, or vision?” “where would I like to see myself personally or professionally, in six months or one year from now” to identify your needs. To help you identify the support you need, you can ask yourself: “where do I get stuck?” “what do I need help with?”

When you identify your needs and goals for yourself, you have clarity on where you are and where you want to go. This roadmap can better help to identify who in your life can support you on this journey. When you identify your strengths and weaknesses, you also have clarity around what others can offer for you when it comes to your weaknesses and how others can support you when it comes to your strengths. This type of intentionality will bring more richness and fulfillment to the relationship. When you identify how those around you best support and help you, you can be better at in turn appreciating them. It can get easier to show gratitude to those around us. The fact is we go through many events and challenges. We can’t expect few people in our support system to be available and ready to support us for all of them. When you break it down and identify what your needs are in a given situation and then be able to identify who you can reach out for in this particular situation, not only will the support system be effective in helping you but you will also feel fulfilled and well supported.

  1. Reach Out and Ask for Help: 

Typically, when we are in the midst of tough times, we automatically think we are alone in it. We ruminate on why it happened and how we could have avoided, as if bad things aren’t meant to happen. More we think we are alone in our pain, the harder it gets. We isolate ourselves, instead of reaching out. We tend to forget that we don’t have to suffer in silence. Because the support system can be the safety net that can guide us through the tough times.

So what stops you from reaching out and asking for help? After all, what good is a support system if you are too shy or afraid to use it? Often we look back and wish we relied on our support system earlier or more often. You never hear someone saying, “I regret I relied on my support system.” What gets in the way from asking for help? Typically, the negative feelings play a role in avoidance of asking for help. Feelings like embarrassment or pride get in the way of  reaching out. If you have fear of being vulnerable, then you are more likely to keep things inside. There can also be distorted perceptions around the meaning of asking for help. You may have come to believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. You think that doing it on your own is a bigger achievement than letting others help. These types of irrational and unhelpful thoughts stop you from asking for help. In order to reach out to your support network, you would need to identify any limiting beliefs and reframe them so that it gets easier for you to ask for help.

It can also be helpful to communicate with those around you any challenges you have around asking for help. This way when you do reach out and ask for help, they know how hard it might be for you to be vulnerable and make sure to respond to you quickly and openly.

One last to consider when working on reaching out and asking for help is to know that no one can read your mind. No one can know when you need help and what kind of help you need. So, when you are reaching out to someone you trust, you will need to communicate firmly, openly, and directly. You will need to be specific about when you need help from them. Is it that moment that you ask for help? Or is it in a few days? Be also specific about the steps they can take to help you. Is there a specific task they can take on or a specific skill they can teach you? More open and communicative you are about your needs, the more likely it is for you to receive the kind of support you need.

  1. Give Your Support Network Permission to Keep You Accountable: 

It is one thing to have those around you that want the best for you, it is another thing to let those people also keep you in check! Sometimes what makes a support system healthy and reliable is that they can keep us accountable. They can give us constructive feedback that is truly in our best interest and will only get us moving forward better and stronger. But it starts with you giving those around you permission to have open and direct conversations with you. It is about you letting them know that you welcome their opinions and feedback as long as it is done non-judgmentally. You don’t want your support system to walk on eggshells around you, hesitant to say what’s on their mind. A healthy relationship works both ways. So when it comes to your support system, it is not only about the help they can give you but also feedback and suggestions.

About the Author

 Dr. Menije is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, CA. When she works with her clients individually or as couples, the goal is to help you break free from the vicious cycle of anxiety and judgment and instead build a true sense of trust in yourself. The practice is currently accepting new clients and offers online therapy.  If you like to learn more about personal growth and anxiety management, join the 5-day challenge.

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