Why you need to nurture your support system

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A few days ago, one of my roommates, Melissa (@lissijean), wrote a telling post about the hardest thing about moving to Italy for six months – giving up your support system. Subsequently, we had our own little heart to heart about some of what we’re both going through. But it got me thinking about this concept of a support system and the state of mine.

“Everybody needs somebody sometimes.” That’s what the song says and it really is true. As far back as the 40s, the field of psychology was introduced to a support system being a need for humans through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He didn’t actually call it that, but that’s what he meant. Lol! Coming after the fulfillment of our physiological and safety needs satisfied, the next level is interpersonal (love and belonging). Here he talks about family, friendship and intimacy, i.e. our support system.

Whether you like large social groups, have lots of friends or stay close to only a few people, you have a support system. People with no support system at all, who don’t feel loved, who belong nowhere often suffer from first loneliness and then anxiety and depression. Humans are social beings. They were not actually meant to be alone. Periodic solitude can be good, especially for the more introverted of us who need to recharge, but being permanently alone can make you crazy (who remembers ‘Castaway’? Lol!)

As a child your default support system is your family. Assuming you are not orphaned or neglected, you have a family. It doesn’t always work, but for most people their family is their first support system, and that relationship continues throughout their life. As you grow older you may have friends that act as a substitute family and expand your support system. These will often flux throughout your lifetime as people grow older and change they may grow apart from old friends and make new friends. But friends form a vital part of a support system. And then there are intimate (or romantic) relationships. Most people will form deeply intimate relationships at some point in their life. These go beyond ordinary friendship and will often become the new family.

Everybody’s support system will look different, based on their background and their needs. It may change many times throughout their lifetime, or it may remain relatively stable. What is important is that you have one.

One of my goals for this year was to foster healthy relationships with friends, colleagues, and family. With my traveling to Italy for the second half of the year, I ended up focusing mostly on the top goal (professional) and putting little thought into the social aspect. That post from Melissa reminded me about the importance of that goal, and why I had prioritized it so highly.

If I were to grade myself on that for this year, it wouldn’t be great. But there are still several months left. My own support system, while struggling with the distance and time zone like Melissa’s, can still be built upon. So here’s to a renewed focus on the people I surround myself with!