Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

On last week’s episode of Scandal we saw what it looks like when you have a true ride or die friend in your corner. When Abby was shaking under a desk facing an incredibly stressful situation she called the only person who could handle it, Liv. And what did Liv do? She didn’t pass judgement, she didn’t ridicule Abby for overreacting, she simply showed up with a choice of new dresses and asked, “What do you want?” How many of us have that person or people in our lives? Better yet, how many of us truly allow them to show up for us? Tell me if this sounds familiar. “I’m the rock in my group of friends. I’m the one that everyone calls when there is a problem, but I don’t share my problems because I don’t want to be a burden to my friends. They already have enough going on.” Now Math is not my strongest area but I do know when something is not adding up and unfortunately, too many of us are practicing this flawed logic. We pride ourselves on being strong and a great friend while in the same breath robbing others of being a great friend to us.

Research suggests that a strong support system is key in maintaining our mental health. Having people we can count on provides protective factors against depression, it enhances our sense of confidence and esteem, buffers us against stress, makes us feel less isolated,  and helps to hold us accountable when we set goals. However, in order for us to reap these benefits, our support system must be both functional and utilized. A support system is not just a bunch of people who call when they need a ride or who update you on the latest office gossip. Our support system should be made up of people who actually show up when they say they will, allow us to show all parts of ourselves and who provide us with what we need and in the ways that we need it. This is not something that happens overnight and it may take some time to curate this group but it is well worth the effort. Here are some tips that may help you to create and better utilize your support system.

1. Include people who are non-judgmental. You will not be able to really engage your support system if you feel like you will be blasted for your choices. This does not mean that your support system will always agree with what you say or the choices that you make but it does mean that they will be respectful and hold you up when you feel your most vulnerable.

2. Include truth tellers. We all need those people in our circles that will call us on our stuff! The friend who will be your biggest cheerleader when you succeed but who will also gently challenge you when you go astray. We all make mistakes, it’s what makes us human but we also have to potential to grow from these mistakes. Who is the person that recognizes your unhealthy patterns and can pull your card to help you get back on track?

3. Be clear with your expectations. The health of our relationships relies largely on how well we communicate what we need from our friends. We cannot be angry at our friends for not showing us support if we have not been clear about how we need them to support us. Are you someone who needs hugs to feels supported or would you prefer your friend to come over with a nice bottle of red and her Netflix account? Do you like to process issues until there is nothing left to say or do you just need someone to sit with you while you cry it out? Whatever it is, we must be clear in communicating what we need from our support system.

4. Be honest with yourself and others. Who is in your circle that has really worn out their welcome? Who is the friend that constantly calls to get advice but doesn’t bother to ask about you and your life? Indeed there are many times that our friendships go through phases and transitions, this is just a normal part of the process. However, we must also recognize when a friendship simply no longer is in our best interest and is actually a detriment to our mental health.

Dr. Joy