For someone who advises and guides others on matters of the heart, I’m not very good at asking for support for myself. Practical help? No problem. Rounding everyone up for a girls night out? Easy. Saying ‘I’m struggling and could do with some support here?’ Not on your nelly.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that has a hard time with this.
I was so surprised last week when sitting with a friend by the estuary off Morecambe Bay, on a blustery July day (yes, I know those things aren't supposed to go together but this is the North of England), sipping our steaming hot tea out of paper cups as the muted greys of the sea and sky shifted and changed and as our eyes watered with the wind.
I’d just told my friend that I’d been feeling flat and tired and, to my surprise, in the kindness and openness of her eye-contact and sitting alongside me, close enough that our arms were touching, I felt my eyes well up and a little bit of grief came up. Well, more of a fair chunk, actually.
I was mortified. I didn't want to feel it and I didn't want her to see it.
I recognise it well these days - by it’s ebbing and flowing, and welling up from the dense, heaviness I feel in my chest. I couldn’t stop the tears, but I noticed they stopped not long after they started, like the latest layer of healing that just wanted releasing. This story is not about grief - telling that tale is like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble - but about what I noticed later, after I’d left my friend and driven home.
I felt better! I actually felt lighter and clearer, and the heaviness and flatness had gone. I noticed my appreciation for how my friend had just sat with me a while, no fixing, no major talking, just loving, kind presence.
I had wanted to run away or change the subject or spill my tea or ANYTHING rather than sit there in my pain and worse, have someone see it and know I didn’t have it all sorted out and couldn't find my happy. But staying and feeling it actually helped it shift.
I know that connection is what it’s all about - how important connection is to why we’re here - but hadn’t realised the power of that ‘space-holding’ as we coaches call it - and also my resistance to being seen in my tenderness and my sadness. I didn’t even consider the pleasure my friend would have got from being with me in deep trust like that.
Physician, heal thyself. [Insert raised eyebrows here]
I don’t know why it’s so hard for us to ask for support sometimes and why we make up that we have to do this all on our own.
Maybe it’s because we see asking for help or receiving support as a weakness.
Maybe we worry that if we ask for help, people will think we owe them.
Perhaps we haven’t yet learned of the balance between dependence and intimacy.
I had a look at what research suggests about social support.
I found this useful distinction between Emotional support and Informational support.
The former is the offering of empathy, concern, affection, love, trust, acceptance, intimacy, encouragement, or caring. The latter is is the provision of advice, guidance, suggestions, or useful information to someone. This type of information has the potential to help others problem-solve.
Imagine, if you will, how it feels when you are offered information by a well-meaning helper, when actually what you wanted was to be seen and cared about. Alongside these two are tangible, practical support, and companionship support, which helps with a sense of belonging.
Current mental health research is well-aware of the benefits of a good social support system for our physical and psychological health, and resilience to stress. More oxytocin, and less cortisol running through our systems.
During the same visit, my friend talked about ‘getting some support’ from her coach because she was dealing with some challenging things at work and knew she would need some extra reinforcement.
I honestly had never considered the power of coaching as support in the same way before. Light-bulb moment.
Having someone in your corner, cheering you on from the sidelines, sometimes offering guidance, mostly asking good questions and providing a big old kind and wide open space within the safe boundaries of the coaching container - why I didn’t realise the power of this before I don’t know. I’m guessing it’ll add a new layer to my facilitation of the Daring Way too - I’ve often been moved when the group include me by asking about my experience or by buying me flowers on day two of a workshop to say thank you - the boundary of ‘facilitator’ or ‘coach’ is softening as I include myself as ‘fellow human’ in a deeper way. It’s all about the beauty of giving and receiving.
So, get some support! From a friend, or a colleague, a manager, a family member, a coach, a group of like-minded folk. Online, or in person. Learn to ask. Know where you are likely to try and go it alone and try asking for some support instead. What have you got to lose?