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on feeling supported

November 21, 2010

Well this post has been a long time coming… it was over three months ago that I received an email from a friend sharing a challenge she was experiencing in her life. Someone important to her made a decision that left her feeling unsupported. She finished the email with this: “I only sent this through because I think a lot of people don’t feel support in life and I thought it would be a good topic for you to write on.

Holding onto a handrail for support

Now my blog posts tend to just find their way into my head through a number of events or coincidences so the thought of writing one on a particular subject scares me. The request has never been far from my mind and as I sat to write each post since it first landed in my inbox I would feel a little guilty – I wanted to support her but I wasn’t sure how to do it or even if I could. So until today I didn’t.

Three events sum up my thoughts on support:

1. I have felt a bit down of late so I recently invited myself over for dinner with a friend. As we were talking he recounted his week which started with a meeting with an expert in his field who was in Australia from the United States. By that afternoon he felt it had been a great opportunity to pick the expert’s brains and get some feedback on the work being done here – to get some support. The next day an email arrived from the expert which expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to spend time with the team here in Australia and be challenged and stimulated by the cutting edge programs being developed. My friend had given support.

2. Having coffee and a real conversation with someone is high on my list of ways I would like to spend my days. I often come away feeling that the world is a little brighter and I am blessed with many friends and colleagues who I think are excellent (and polite) listeners. They hear me and that simple act has often provided the support I needed to get through the day.  The unexpected surprise was a recent note thanking me for supporting them.

3. A colleague has recently received accreditation as a coach – a role in which your job is to offer support to others. The accreditation process required her to get testimonials from the people she has coached. I am pretty sure the people concerned are not aware of the effect their support of her has had and I suspect if you ask them they would say it is all a one way street in their direction.

Before you write a comment to say that is all well and good but what about when there is no support coming I want to return to the email which started this blog.

Since the day that email arrived I have wanted to write something for two reasons – I wanted to show my support through the act of agreeing to a request made by a friend but I also wanted to write words that are supportive and help her through the challenges that she faces. Problem is that the best of intentions don’t offer much support and I don’t think you could blame her if she has felt less than supported in the meantime.

And I guess that is what the events of the last few weeks have left me with …

Sometimes the best way to feel supported is to be supportive when someone else is having a tough time with one of life’s challenges.

Sometimes the act of asking for support from another person can lead to them feeling supported.

And lastly, just because there is nothing coming from that other person right now it doesn’t mean that they do not support you. Maybe like me, they are not sure they have much of value to offer you. Maybe they haven’t been in touch because they don’t want to bother you with any more of their particular challenges in life. Maybe they are just struggling to find the right words to say …

And following on from the comments on my previous post who are you to teach me a lesson, I would add that sometimes words are not needed and no action is required.

There are some things in life we want or need to get through on our own. Times when an offer of help or support from others is the last thing we feel like receiving. Like a child who is learning to walk, perhaps the best thing we can do is to watch over them and be there to comfort them if they fall.


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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2010 3:05 pm

    This is a very worthwhile topic to address, but it can be rather catastrophic albeit well intended, if people assume they know what is best for the kind of support the person needs. I would like to address a particular context of support.

    Obviously if there is some sort of physical threat or emergency one doesn’t sit back and wait for permission to help out.

    I think that for emotional, or everyday problems, the supporter needs ‘permission’ to go ahead – that is, there needs to be a check in some how that this is okay with the person being supported. A question based on observation might be a gentle approach; I noticed …. and was wondering ….?

    Some years ago I found myself in a situation providing support. My ‘adopted’ mother had suddenly passed away. Her second husband, rather elderly and very structured in his ways, was suddenly confronted with life changing events for him. His skills in ‘batchelorhood’ were long gone and his cooking prowess was limited to merely scrambling eggs. For some months I stayed with him and helped him through this sad transition. However, along the way it dawned on me that I was experiencing a little unexpected role playing and now had some insight into what a wife or mother may sometimes experience.

    Okay, before we get too carried away, this is in the context of a domestic chores perspective, and yes, old school when there was a different approach to how the family was run. I am pleased to say, I much prefer the equity that is supposed to be evident in the more modern household.

    Getting back to the situation – I was feeling a little miffed that I was doing all the cooking yet never getting any sign of appreciation, not even so much as a thank you. After a while I began to reflect on what my Mum used to tell us four kids,”you wont miss me when I’m gone and you just take everything for granted”. Of course she was right, we did take everything for granted, but we all miss her everyday some 30 years after her death. I didn’t understand her comments and feeling … I do now.

    Back to my transition helping; I decided to read John Grey’s book Men and from Mars etc. What an insight! I was reading to try and understand ‘Pete’. I was reading it from a completely different perspective and I learned a lot. Grey maintains that men have a tendency to try and solve everyone’s problems, particularly women’s. If a woman shares a story of some dilemma or event the male’s default position is to regard this a cry for help. Problem is, it is often no such thing. Women, according to Grey, and I hope there is some further discussion on this blog, want men to be aware of the issue but it doesn’t mean the male has to treat it like an unsolved or out of control problem. Women are quite capable of solving their own problems, and helping men solve theirs.

    As Will Anderson (in his Professor Will skit) used to say: Makes sense when you say it out loud. So the support comes sometimes from merely being an attentive and active listener – not a problem solver. Grey was pointed in his remarks: wait until you are asked for advice or told there is a need for help before you assume that you are the bastion of solutions.

    I agree with Paul here. I think the coffee shop lends itself well for a good informal, relaxed setting for non judgmental discussions.

  2. November 21, 2010 7:06 pm

    You raise an excellent point Paul. I am wondering now whether I have a much more stereotypical ‘male’ perspective on things than I would like to think I do…

    Reflecting back, Grey is right – there is a large proportion of the population who are certain that they can fix your problem – often even before you have finished describing what the issue is! They don’t ask for, nor do they wait for, permission to be given. Maybe that is the place where my desire to “help” the man with the $10 note in his mouth comes from? The question is why?

    I recall a I heard a talk a while back given by Ram Dass. He spoke of compassionate helping being a completely unremarkable event that requires no acknowledgment. Why would you thank the left hand for giving the right hand some food?

    The problem, he says, is when we become to attached to being “a helper”. When we do that we are really focused on what we (our ego?) can get out of the interaction – not on reducing suffering. As I understand his view, there is no question that helping should occur but the result depends on the place within the helper that the help comes from.

    Would love to read a female perspective…

  3. Sandie permalink
    November 21, 2010 8:17 pm

    Since you asked… You’ve reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband a few years ago. I can’t even remember the specifics of the incident but I will never forget the support. I had done something that, at the time I felt it was something almost catastrophic. I called him and just said “I’m going to tell you something and all I need you to say is ‘That’s ok honey, everything will be fine’.” I explained what had happened and he said “That’s ok honey, everything will be fine.” And it was! A problem shared is a problem halved. I think support is just knowing someone is there when you need them – no strings. I can’t proof this as I typed in on my phone so hope it all makes sense 🙂

    • November 23, 2010 5:34 am

      ‘Knowing someone is there when you need them – no strings’ is the thing Sandie. I agree. That is when I feel most supported. You are blessed to have a relationship with someone in which you feel comfortable and confident enough to say “this is all I need you to say” and that he is able to hear you and respond in that way (perhaps going against all of his natural male tendancies?). Thanks Sandie.

  4. Megan permalink
    November 21, 2010 8:55 pm

    Well chaps (and other readers), I make no attempt to represent the whole of the female experience, but am happy to share a personal perspective.

    I can agree that I get a great deal more out of a discussion about and around a problem rather than a single answer on how said problem can be “fixed”. To me, feeling supported is having someone to discuss my problems/fears/concerns/feelings with, and to really nut-out why and what and what-else might help, making it a much more fulfilling and relieving experience that simply venting to a passive listener.

    Conversely, I find that my husband does not really want to talk about, around, dissect or brainstorm. He simply wants me to listen, and gets agitated when I interject, or juxtapose, etc. He feels more supported by me “just listening” (over a coffee as well 🙂 )

    Over the last 20-25 years or so, I have also had the privilege of interacting (on many levels) with people with disabilities. I have to say that some people with disabilities are assumed to be requiring support for things that they are entirely capable of, using the false logic that because of dysfunction in one area, that the person is incapable of any “normal” function. Which raises the question “Who are you to assume that I need help?” Support in this situation might be that you trust that I am capable. I must (of course) caveat this by saying, I am not a person with a disability and I am sure that my declaration of “support” is laden with my own prejudices.

    Once again, my mother’s advice guides me, although it has taken many years to truly appreciate just what this means, and that is – to be gracious. Even if there is no way on this earth that I would consider accepting support from a particular individual – I should always be thankful that they offered in the first place. “Thanks, but no thanks,” or simply “Thanks” should suffice. If I offer my support and it is not accepted, then I should not take it as a personal assault.

    That’s enough, I think. Thanks for listening 😛

    • November 23, 2010 5:43 am

      Another perspective that I think compliments LittleBro’s comments on the previous post. I know that I make assumptions about people’s capabilities (or more often their limitations) quite often. The fear of a negative response to our offers of help is something that I think makes us cautious about offering assistance (the movie gag of the old lady hitting boy scouts with a handbag when they offer to help her across the street comes to mind). Your mother’s challenge “to be gracious” is one that I think we should all accept – to be gracious in the offer, to be gracious in accepting or rejecting an offer of help and to be gracious when we respond to either that acceptance or rejection. Reflecting on the comments here over the last few days I think people would feel much more supported (on both sides of the equation) if we could all do that more often.

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