If you look into the research about resiliency, inevitably you’ll find that social support and community are among the factors that help people learn to recover – and even thrive – through the worst of circumstances.
There are many aspects to the idea of social support but I’m just going to discuss four key components here. Utilizing any or all of these elements will help you bounce back more easily and in good company.
Do you encourage people to want to help you?
That’s what Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith found in their landmark study of resilient children – one of the factors that helped the kids to succeed was their ability to elicit assistance from others, what the researchers called an “easy temperament.”
To assess whether you have good sociability, ask yourself:
– Am I empathic and caring?
– Do I communicate clearly and assertively?
– Am I compassionate? Do I help others?
– Do people seem to want to help me?
If your answers to these questions are yes, than you are a very sociable person. If you answered ‘no’ to one or more – especially the last question – you might want to get some feedback and support through a therapist, coach, or mentor to help you increase your sociability.
2. Accepting help
Okay, so you’re very sociable and have a good circle of friends. Now, will you actually accept their help?
This is a pivotal question, especially for those of you who tend to be caretakers and are constantly giving. Or, as my friend and colleague, Bruce Anderson, puts it, you are “breathing out” to others all the time and rarely take the opportunity to “breathe in” what others want to give you.
Just as you must literally breathe in to exist, you must also “breathe in” the support, empathy, and nurturing that others want to give you.
3. Having a sense of belonging
Studies on the resiliency of the elderly are showing that they not only need a social system, they also need and want to feel like they belong to a community.
The same is true for you and all of us at any age level. Much like the old sitcom Cheers, you really do need a place where everybody knows your name. Where you’re comfortable and feel like you are a part of the group.
This doesn’t have to be a large group, either. Maybe you have two or three friends that make up your community. That’s okay. As long as you feel like you belong.
If you don’t have a sense of belonging, see about joining a group like a church, support group, book club, professional group, or an organization that helps others.
4. Finding a mentor
Another thing the kids in the Werner and Smith study excelled at was finding someone to look up to and learn from. Sometimes it was an aunt or uncle, a teacher, a counselor, or even a policeman or other community member.
This is important for us as adults, too. We all need to have at least one person we can go to for advice, a person who will stick with you through the tough times.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be an older person. Maybe it’s just a close friend or your spiritual leader who happens to be ten years younger than you! Whoever you feel is a solid and consistent presence in your life can be a great mentor and coach.
Even if you’re introverted or prefer to be alone most of the time, make sure you have one person you can reach out to when needed.
Bouncing back from tough times is hard. Doing it alone is harder. Make sure you have all the support you need. You’ll be glad you did.