When Will You Reach for Support?

An earlier version of this post appeared in February 2010 on this blog.

Morsels of Change question to ponder:

What level of pain do you suffer before you reach for support?

Gratefully, I often notice these days that my tolerance for emotional pain has diminished. I deeply appreciate being less strong.

For most of my twenties, I had a high tolerance for emotional pain. I spent a lot of time feeling agonized, feeling like the world had sharp edges, feeling like everything had the potential to hurt me. My method for coping was to continually increase my pain tolerance. I had a dysfunctional pride in how much I could take. I could hurt and hurt and hurt before I would break down and reach out for help. I needed to be in crisis before I would crack enough to let someone else in.

What strikes me now is that I break much sooner. My emotional pain doesn’t have to be at 98% before I reach out for comfort, call a friend, go to therapy, talk to a coach, soak in a bath. The overall effect is that my average emotional pain level is much lower. I used to coast along at, say, 80% as my base level. When it spiked up to 98%, I’d ask for help. When it lowered back down to a 90% or 80%, I’d carry on. And all the while be perversely proud about how much I could handle.

I think my base level is now closer to 20%, and I reach for help when it gets to 30%. It’s taken a solid three years to lower my tolerance and build the habit of reaching for help early on, and now that I see the results I wish I had learned this sooner.

How much happier might I have been if I had learned earlier that I didn’t have to do it all on my own? If I had learned that others could provide support and care for me before I was in crisis?

I invite you to cast a glance at your own life and tendencies, and ask yourself:

  • What do I believe I have to do all by myself?
  • What level of pain do I reach before I seek out support?
  • How might my life change if I reached for support sooner?

Morsels of Change question to ponder:

What level of pain do I reach before I seek out support?

 

How Can I Get Support?

In this blog post, I answer a question about finding support.

Here’s the question I received:

Sometimes I feel like the whole world’s against me and no one’s on my side. How can I get some support?

And my response:

Ah, I know the feeling. For me, it’s like being crammed into a dark corner, and I raise my fists up in defensiveness. What is it like for you?

I love that you’ve recognized your need for support. Once you’ve reached out and received some support, the feeling that no one is on your side will start fading. Before exploring support, though, I want to ask a bit about “the whole world” being against you.

Is it true?

That’s one of my favourite Byron Katie questions. Whenever we notice ourselves framing things in absolutes (“the whole world’s against me”, “no one’s on my side”), it’s a clue that our thinking has taken a field trip into a world of fixed, unchangeable, absolutist beliefs. So I invite you to slow down and ask yourself, “Is it true?”

Perhaps you can think of someone who isn’t against you: maybe it’s the grocery cashier who helped pack your bags, or the bus driver who stopped to let you off, or someone who gave you a hug when you got home. In any way, little or big, can you find examples from this week of people who weren’t against you?

I know you can. And as you find those examples, your mind will start loosening its grip on the belief that it’s you against the world. And once that belief has been loosened up just a little, you can open up to exploring support.

What does support look like to you?

Support looks different to different people. What’s the type of support you need?

Some people, I’ve learned, feel supported when someone checks in with them regularly to ask how they are. Some people feel supported when they take “me-time” and go to a yoga class, or listen to music, or take a walk. Some people feel supported when they have a list of four great people on their babysitting roster.

What’s the type of support you’re yearning for?

Jot down (or doodle!) what support looks like for you.

  • How does it feel when you’re supported?
  • What do you notice around you?
  • What do you believe when you’re supported?
  • What can you count on when you’re supported?
  • What changes for you when you get support?

Get Specific

I invite you to list five to ten things that would help you feel supported.

  • Try to make these things tangible (e.g. “Jane takes out the garbage”) rather than abstract (“Jane helps out more around the house”).
  • And try to make these things statements of what you want to have happen (e.g. “Joe makes dinner on Monday”) rather than naming what you want to stop/change (e.g. “Joe stops eating all the leftovers I was going to use for my lunches this week” — that explains what you want to have stop, but not what you want to have happen instead).

Ask

I think it’s a tragedy that sometimes the people closest to us miss out on supporting us, because they don’t understand what support looks like for us. Often, they don’t understand because we’re unclear on it ourselves, or we’ve never taken the time to tell them what we need.

Do the people close to you know about your personal definition of support? Do they know you’re needing support right now?

I invite you to make the ask. I invite you to step forward, knowing what it is you need and want, and to make a specific request from someone near you for their support.

If this idea feels too daunting right now, start with something that doesn’t feel intimidating or overwhelming for you. For example, get the physical sensation of support by sitting with your back leaning against a wall, or feel supported lying in a hot bath or floating in a swimming pool. Ask someone to give you a call this week just to ask how you are. Tell someone, “I know I need support, but I’m scared / uncomfortable / reluctant / worried about asking for it.” As you make yourself vulnerable in this way, the people you’re reaching out to will see your sincere need for support, and see that you are inviting them in to help you.

It’s beautiful that you’re asking for their help. It’s beautiful that you are opening up to your honest, human, moving need: to feel supported. It’s my wish that as you learn what support you need, and how to reach out for it, that you become a role model to others around you who feel the same way.

Warmly,

Laura

Laura Asks

Who could offer you support?


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