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Social Support - How to Create Truly Supportive Friendships

Make the Most of Your Social Circle


Updated May 01, 2013

Social Support - How to Create Truly Supportive Friendships

A good friend can supply the helping hand you need in a crisis. ©iStockPhoto.com

Research shows that healthy and supportive relationships can reduce stress and improve your overall health and sense of well-being. However, all relationships are not equally supportive. Building a network of supportive friends, or even just one supportive relationship, can be vital to your wellbeing. Here are some key skills that can help you to build relationships with people that are truly supportive and sustaining.

Meeting People- The more people you have in your life, the more likely you are to have truly supportive relationships with at least one of them. It’s beneficial to be able to regularly add new people to your circle. Here are some good ways to meet people, and some tips to remember when making a new friend.

Time Management- It’s important to make time to nurture relationships, and to go out and have fun with friends. You may feel like you just don’t have time to spend on this, but time management and organization techniques can help you find more time in your life to spend on friendships. These techniques can also help you to show up on time, remember birthdays and other important events, help friends when they’re in need, and do other things that will strengthen friendships and make them supportive.

Assertiveness- People often think of assertiveness as ‘standing up for yourself’ and ‘not letting people push you around’ -- basically the alternative to passivity. While this is mostly true, assertiveness is also the alternative to aggressiveness, a way of handling people where you get your needs met at the expense of others’ needs. Developing the skill of assertiveness can really help you strengthen your relationships, making them mutually supportive, lasting and opening the lines of communication.

Listening to Your Friends- When we’ve had a hard day, sometimes being able to talk to a friend about our feelings is all it takes to turn things around and make stress a feeling of connection and well-being. Being truly listened to and understood can have profound effects on us. When dealing with friends, it’s important to give as well as receive this supportive type of listening when support is truly needed. Here are some things to remember when friends are talking about things that stress or upset them:

  • Ask them about their feelings, and listen.
  • Reflect back what you hear, so they know you really understand.
  • Instead of always trying to tie the conversation back to your experiences, focus questions on them and their feelings.
  • When they’re talking, are you missing some of what they say because you’re waiting for them to stop talking so you can say what you want to say next? Stop, and really listen to them.

Learn more about how to be a good listener, an important skill to have.

Listening to Your Intuition- Some people give off positive energy that makes us feel good, and others give off negative energy that drains us. If you pay attention to the signals that your intuition sends you and act on those signals, you’ll have a healthier social circle. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does the conversation flow easily, or is it forced?
  • Do you feel they truly understand, accept and support you?
  • Do you feel you truly understand, accept and support them?
  • Do you feel better or worse about yourself when you’re with them?
  • Do you leave them feeling energized or mildly depressed?
  • Do you include them in your life for positive qualities they have, or just to have more people in your life?

The answers to these questions, and what you can learn from this quiz will help you begin to develop your intuition, which will help you strengthen your relationships, or help you with...

Letting Go- Not everyone is an appropriate match. If there’s someone in your life who makes you feel bad about yourself, doesn’t share any of your interests or values, or is someone that you just don’t mesh well with, it’s perfectly acceptable to put that relationship on the back burner, let it fade altogether, or not develop it in the first place. Even if you were at one time close, people change and grow in different directions. That doesn’t mean there’s something ‘wrong’ with either of you. But if someone in your life is no longer good for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to let them go. (Conversely, if you’d like to keep them in your life out of loyalty, albeit in a periphery role, that’s OK, too. However, it would be beneficial to remember not to count on them for support, if they’re not able to give it to you.) Only you know if the relationship is worth keeping or not. But it is important to have several people you can count on for support in your life. (If you're not sure if your relationships are supporting or draining you, the Social Assessment Quiz can help!)

It takes some work, but cultivating a circle of truly supportive friendships can make a huge difference in how you handle stress and life.

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Crockett LJ, Iturbide MI, Torres Stone RA, McGinley M, Raffaelli M, Carlo G. Acculturative Stress, Social Support, and Coping: Relations to Psychological Adjustment Among Mexican American College Students. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology October 2007.]
Rao K, Apte M, Subbakrishna DK. Coping and Subjective Wellbeing in Women with Multiple Roles. The International Journal of Social Psychiatry September 2003.

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