With A Little Help From My Friends…

BACP registered counsellors in brightonWhen we are going through a difficult time in our lives we often turn to those closest to us for comfort and advice. Talking to friends and family can help us make sense of what is happening in our world and give us much-needed support. What can we do to make it easier for people to be there for us when we really need them?
 
I believe that, whether we are in counselling or psychotherapy or not, it is vitally important to have a good support network around us to get us through times of illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown or other loss such as redundancy. I have also found that it is very common for people in distress – and especially when that distress is prolonged – to either ask too much of one particular friend or family member or, at the other extreme, to not ask for support from anyone.
 
It can feel very hurtful when someone on whom we can usually rely suddenly appears unwilling to spend time with us or listen to our troubles. When this happens, it might be worth considering our own part in what is going on. Does the other person feel pressured or overloaded by our demands? Might they have their own stuff going on at the same time? To illustrate this I like to think of walking out onto a frozen lake. It is the end of winter and the ice is beginning to melt. Cracks appear in the surface. How can we keep ourselves from falling into the chilly water below? The best way is to spread out our body weight across the ice. We might lie down, put on snow shoes or crawl on all fours. By spreading our weight across a wider surface area, the ice is more likely to hold and we can slowly make our way back to the safety of the shore. So it is with asking for support; by spreading our need for company and space to talk amongst a small group of trusted people we can often avoid overloading one individual in particular.
 
Some of us avoid asking for support from others altogether. There might be a number of reasons for this. We might fear becoming a burden to our friends or family, we might worry that they will think less of us if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of them, we might expect to be shamed (possibly with good reason) for expressing ‘negative’ or ‘forbidden’ feelings of fear, anger or sadness. Sometimes, a previous bad experience of asking for help is colouring our judgement. We might not realise that certain friends and members of our family are more than willing to give valuable support to us when we are feeling stressed. We might also forget that other people are perfectly capable of keeping themselves emotionally safe (i.e. we do not have to do this for them by not asking in the first place) by saying a kindly ‘not right now’ to us when they are busy or setting limits on the amount of time they can be with us.
 
Coming to see a counsellor or psychotherapist at times of stress or difficulty is another way of spreading the load on those around us. Your therapist is also more likely to be honest with you and impartial about what you bring to them. For example, if you are debating leaving a partner, a good friend might be all too aware of the implications on their own life if this were to happen; they might fear losing contact with your partner, or feel they are forced to take sides. With no connection to you outside of the consulting room, a therapist can explore the options with you without an agenda on their part.
 
Being aware of our own responsibilities in seeking help from others can mean that we are more likely to get what we need. This help might not always be available on tap – other people have their own lives to live – and there will be times when we will have to wait or turn somewhere else for support. By involving more than one person, we spread the load and make it easier for people to help us now and in the longer term.
 
For 24 hour emergency support in the UK, contact The Samaritans.
 
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, UKCP-registered psychotherapist and counsellor in Brighton and Hove
 
With a Little Help From My Friends – Lennon & McCartney, 1967
 
Image courtesy of Tina Phillips at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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