Building A Helpful Support System

Old 04-15-2003, 12:48 AM
  # 1 (permalink)  
Morning Glory
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Building A Helpful Support System

by The Collective MiSFiT

A support system could be defined as the network of people we surround ourselves with in our day to day life, all of whom fulfill different needs in our lives. Please do not confuse this with a support group, as the dynamic for a support group is entirely different, although much of the information here can overlap.

This has been an incredibly difficult subject for us to even contemplate writing about, as we have struggled for many years with the concept of "needing help". We continue still to struggle with the deeply ingrained core belief system that is at the root of our resistance to reaching out for support.

These core beliefs were solidified over the course of many years and unlearning them is probably going to require a lot of repetition. Therefore, it seems appropriate to address that resistance first; since the beginning of building a support system might be the acceptance of support.

UNWORTHINESS (lacking in excellence or value) -=- "Why would anyone want to waste their time on me? I'm just not worth it."

While our feelings of complete and utter unworthiness are quite valid, they do not in any way line up with the inherent truth. Our experiences and our abusers taught us we are unworthy, in order to keep us silent and submissive. As a result, often that belief goes far and deep into the core of whom we have become.

We believe one of the most effective ways to overcome this hurdle is to evaluate whether or not we have the ability to take someone else's word for whether or not we deserve their help and attention. In other words, we had to make a choice to accept help "as if" we deserved it in spite of being convinced we were unworthy.

Initially this meant thinking and believing that people who were there for us were somehow obligated to be there and merely putting up with us. Over time we have been able to come to the place of really believing they do see value in us we do not see in ourselves. It is our hope that, as we continue on our way, somewhere down the road we will actually see in us some of the value they see.

UNIQUENESS (being without a like or equal) -=- "Nobody understands me and I get so tired of having to explain myself."

In our experience uniqueness can sometimes be a wall that we attempt to hide our shame or pain beneath. For us, the feeling of uniqueness most often comes from the isolation that is commonly a result of the abuse. Silence was the rule. Since it was easier not to tell the secrets if we spent our time alone, we became more and more isolated. After awhile even when we were around people we were alone.

Spending so much time in isolation results in believing that we are the only ones in the world feeling what we are feeling and nobody will ever understand. Perhaps the only way to really overcome this hurdle is to look and listen. There are many people out there breaking the silence and telling their stories. We are not unique, and we are not alone.

SHAME (a condition of humiliating disgrace) -=- "I'd be too ashamed to face people if they knew what happened to me."

The truth is that the shame really belongs to the abusers. The message that it belongs to us is a lie. Children are not born with the ability to feel shame. Children are not even born with a need to cover their bodies. It is adults in their lives who teach them. Some of the lessons they learn are "good" and "right" in our society, such as wearing clothing in public. Some of those lessons are lies, such as shame.

We did not bring shame upon ourselves but children usually cannot know the difference between the true and false lessons. As adults in healing we must relearn these false lessons and break the hold that they have over us. It begins when we hear for the first time that there is nothing we could do to force a non-abusive person to hit, beat, molest, or rape us and therefore we have NOTHING to be ashamed of.

A therp can tell us the abuse was not our fault and we have nothing to be ashamed of, until they are blue in the face; but if this information is not coming from a peer it does not seem to hold as much weight. We believe that the most effective way over the shame hurdle is to seek out those who have similar experiences to ours, in spite of our shame. In other words, those we are most afraid to face with our shame may very well be those who are most able to help us to overcome it.

LACK OF TRUST (assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone) -=- "If I let you in, you will let me down. If I care about you, you will hurt me. If I show you who I am, you will leave me."

The vicious cycle of trust issues is a very difficult support hurdle, since it's another of those lessons we learned from our abusers. Trust nobody. We trusted them and they abused, betrayed, neglected, and abandoned us. Since we learned early on that we were responsible for this pain (the shame lie) then the logic follows that if we trust we will get hurt.

Unfortunately, this often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in our lives. We say we trust nobody, but we end opening ourselves up to people who will only hurt us and reinforce these lessons. The truth, however, is that they didn't hurt us BECAUSE we trusted them. They were abusive and hurt us IN SPITE OF our trust for them.

We believe that the secret to overcoming the trust issues is to go slowly. First we began to choose our supporters very selectively, because people with similar experiences can have more of a tendency to understand and respect trust issues. That same commonality can cause much difficulty when establishing such relationships, but working through those difficulties can be very healing and strengthening as well.

Next we began understanding that trust is not an all or nothing thing. We learned to trust in stages, according to what others have proven to us about themselves. People do not come into our lives with the inherent right to be fully and completely trusted. What they do deserve is a chance. If we trust them with a little, they can then prove to us whether or not they are worthy of more.

SELF-RELIANCE (complete reliance on one's own efforts and abilities) -=- "I can do it on my own, I don't need anyone."

Self-reliance should not be confused with Empowerment (to promote the self-actualization or influence of). It is very important that we empower ourselves in order to more fully protect ourselves from the true dangers in the future. Taking back our power from our abusers and learning how not to give away our power ever again is an extremely important part of the healing process.

Self-reliance, however, is likely the direct result of our trust issues. We learned that since we cannot trust anyone else, or they will surely hurt us, it is clearly only safe to trust ourselves. In truth, relying entirely on ourselves is not self-protection. It is continuation of the isolation and it really only further protects the abusers. Eliminating the need for self-reliance protects us instead of the abusers.
Old 04-15-2003, 12:49 AM
  # 2 (permalink)  
Morning Glory
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Sadly, the fact that we often open ourselves up to people who only hurt us, as we covered in the trust section, makes it ever more difficult to overcome the self-reliance hurdle. Yet the very fact that we invite those people in is direct proof that we still have need for the things that we have been deprived and cannot adequately provide ourselves, such as love and nurturing.

Therefore we suggest we do in fact need other people to help along the way, whether we WANT to need them or not. The challenge then, beyond overcoming our resistance to the concepts needing and accepting help, would be finding the right people for our support system. We feel that the secret here is that we must become the kind of supporter of others that we need for ourselves.

For us, focussing on the kind of supporters we are for others provides two very useful bonuses beyond the obvious rewards of being a helpful supporter. The first bonus is that we attract others into our lives that tend to be at our level in healing and supporting. The second bonus is that we, hopefully, model good supporting for others who will go from the role of survivor to supporter themselves as they have that ability in their growth.

7 Signs of a Helpful Supporter:

Listening - Often survivors have spent many years in silence because if and when they did speak out they were stifled and unheard. Also, frequently part of the abuse itself entailed restrictions on the communications of the abused and demands of secrecy. Consequently it is very important that supporters listen attentively, and really hear what is being said.
Believing - Survivors who were abused as children often had their silence bought by being repeatedly told that people wouldn't believe them over the abuser anyway. Many times they even began to doubt their own memories and perceptions, not to mention the validity of their pain. When a survivor breaks the silence it is, therefore, imperative that they not only be heard but they be believed.
Caring - It is important that a supporter care, but more than that they should also make an effort to be sure that the person they are supporting knows that they care. Good supporters don't just assume that the survivor knows that they care. Instead, they understand that many times those working to heal from trauma don't feel they deserve true caring and often believe that their supporters somehow feel obligated.
Empathy - This is the ability to feel what another is feeling regardless of whether or not you have experienced what they have. This does not mean that the supporter takes on the survivor's feelings as their own, but instead that the supporter is able to feel those feelings with the survivor. Empathy is not only extremely validating for the survivor but also goes a very long way to help them feel they are not so totally alone.
Boundaries - Setting and enforcing good healthy boundaries is extremely important. Boundaries keep the issues of the survivor and the supporter from becoming entangled, and the relationship from becoming enmeshed or co-dependant. Also, whether knowingly or not, a supporter with good boundaries is modeling an important skill that the survivor may need to learn.
Honesty - We can't stress enough how very important it is that a supporter be honest. Survivors have been lied to far too much already. If the survivor is to ever learn to trust again the foundation of that trust will be built during their healing, by the willingness of their supporters to be honest with them both in word and in deed.
Bridge Building - Supporters who are also survivors in or through their own healing journey possess a wealth of experiences and understandings that can be invaluable to the survivor. Sharing of those experiences and understandings by the supporter is not only an act of building bridges but also shining a light into the darkness for the survivor's path.

Supporters have the chance to build up, encourage, and help empower a fellow human being and should not take this commitment lightly. It is a tremendous responsibility and with the positive possibilities come also the negative. Supporters have the ability to unwittingly do additional damage to survivors if they are not careful. The damage can occur if they reinforce the old messages, thus making future trust in others even more difficult.

7 Supporting No-No's:

Fixing - There is a tremendous difference between building bridges and what we not so affectionately call "fix-it mode". We realize how hard it is to walk alongside another who is greatly struggling and how instinctive it can be to want to fix things for them. The truth is nobody can do this work for anyone else and even if they could it is more likely to harm than help, because the survivor would not be able to discover their personal power.
Shaming & Blaming - Statements or questions such as: "You must have led him on", "Why did you make him mad at you", "How could you have let that happen to you", or "You must have wanted it" are extremely damaging to the survivor. Shaming and blaming not only serve to do further damage to the fragile trust of the survivor, but also greatly reinforce their misplaced, but deeply rooted, self-blame.
Blabbing - When people tell others things that have been shared with them in confidence they are betraying trust. It is imperative that supporters respect the confidence of the survivor and keep all conversations private. Failure to do so could result in an emotional re-victimization of the survivor.
Siding - Supporters should be very careful not to "take sides" because support is not about judgement. While it may be easy for an empathetic listener to see other perspectives it is essential that their focus remain on the person they're supporting.
"Should"ing - Whenever someone tells anyone else how they should feel it is very invalidating to how the person actually IS feeling. It also gives the message that they are feeling wrong. There are no right or wrong feelings, feelings just are. Feelings need to be heard, validated, and worked through. That is the only healthy way to actually change them.
Controlling - As a vital part of the healing process survivors must discover their personal power and take control of their own lives. It is part of the supporter's responsibility to help the survivor discover that personal power not to, consciously or not, continue the pattern of control.
Projecting - Any time anyone puts his or her own behaviors, feelings, or thoughts onto someone else as if it belongs to that other person it is called projecting. An extreme example of projection would be the cheating spouse who adamantly accuses the faithful spouse of infidelity. Supporters should be very careful, with the aid of self-awareness and good personal boundaries, not to project on the survivor.

Perhaps above all else the single most important attribute of any helpful supporter is the willingness to accept their own humanity and limitations. There will be rough spots and difficult times but open and honest communication is essential to overcoming any and all relational hurdles.

We might note, at this point, that the format of this writing might seem to insinuate that there is a clear line distinguishing supporters from survivors. On the contrary, however, it is our deep conviction that the most effective and helpful supporter-survivor relationships usually include two supporters and two survivors, because each person is a supporter AND a survivor.

Finally, it is possible in any type of support relationship for one person to give too much and the other to take too much. When this occurs we believe it is often because the giver is determining their worth based on how much they can give, and the taker has no clue how much they have to offer. If the support relationship is to be successful and long lasting it is extremely important that both parties come to understand that support is give and take, a mutual relationship.
Old 04-15-2003, 06:00 AM
  # 3 (permalink)  
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: Bristol TN/VA
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Thank you. This brought tears to my eyes because it is such powerful truth. And touches on my deepest hurts. The truth will set me free!
Such a Godsend today, I needed this message very much.

Having just spent the weekend with my parents who are deeply ashamed of me and blame me. I heard some very damaging things the last four days...wish I could shake it off like a dog does water...but it is not that superficial. This post is a balm of healing.
Thank you so very much, I appreciate so much the effort and effect of healing you bring to us.!

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Old 04-16-2003, 04:00 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2002
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Thank you

It's like Mary Poppins-the movie.whatever medecine, one is looking for, I found it here in these posts.

Copied,pasted and on my mirror,

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Old 04-16-2003, 05:19 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2002
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Live is offline  
Old 04-16-2003, 08:10 AM
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Wow, MG, I am so incredibly impressed. That was really important to read. Very insightful. I'm really glad I found this place.

Thank you very much.
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