Cultivating Social Support

Now Woody, he’s been my pal for as long as I can remember. He’s brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special is he’ll never give up on you… ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what. – Andy, Toy Story 3 (2010)

It is amazing how children’s movies can help everyone, no matter how old, remember what is truly important in life. The life lessons taught in movies like the Toy Story series are reminders that no matter how frustrated we get, how low we may feel, or how challenging life can become there are always those who love us no matter what. For many, their support network is what helps them come through tough times even stronger than before.

A support system consists of the constellation of people in one’s life, such as family, friends, or co-workers, who provide comfort and a sense of belonging. Having a solid support system has been shown to not only improve emotional well-being, but also physical health; therefore, it is important for individuals of all ages to cultivate such relationships. Unfortunately, many individuals find it more difficult to develop solid support networks as they get older, which is often due to increased responsibility at home, less free time, and fewer chances to meet new people. However, it is usually during the high stress times, such as child-rearing, that many people find they need a support system more than ever, but don’t know who to turn to or even how to ask for help. Additionally, it is not uncommon for some people to be hesitant to confide in those around them because of a fear of looking bad or out of embarrassment; however, most would be surprised to find out that others have felt the same way or experienced a similar situation. It is often through sharing hardships that the best friendships are born.

To have a good friend, one must also be a good friend; therefore, it is important to make sure that each person gives and takes equally in a friendship. Supportive relationships should be just that, supportive; however, sometimes it is important to monitor whether you are receiving the same amount of support you are giving out, this helps ensure that the relationship continues to be uplifting rather than draining. Similarly, it is important to make sure competition is kept at a healthy level. For example, it can be helpful for friends to make a weight loss pact as a means of keeping each other accountable and providing encouragement; however, if the pact evokes too much competition it is possible that the friends may find themselves jealous or resentful of the other’s accomplishments, rather than happy and proud. Finally, one of the main tenets for maintaining a solid support network is simply staying in touch. Regular phone calls, emails, or in person visits are imperative to the survival of your relationship. By staying in touch you are building the foundation of your relationship, as well as sending the message that you care about each other. I encourage you to foster your own support network and help those close to you do the same, because the benefits are well worth the time and energy required.

Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
October 4, 2010

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