The Self Connection Podcast E4: What is Support ? (Part 2)

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Today Sharon and Tim continue their conversation about “What is support”  They explore the nature of support particularly within an intimate relationship like marriage and the challenges that involves.  

Here is a note that Tim wrote in reflecting on their first conversation:

There are roles we go into when we are giving support or receiving it.

Whenever we are in the role of supporter or supported, we need clear expectations and boundaries to ensure the contact is safe, healthy and constructive.

There need to be certain parameters met by the one receiving the support that empowers them to receive supportive energy. The receiver is not just a passive recipient of support; mere passive reception of anything would disempower them.

Supporter and supported must engage in a dynamic dialogical process interweaving a sharing and turn-taking of giving and receiving of energy, attention, and goodwill.

While the supporter is clearly tasked with listening, attuning, validating, the supported must help the supporter, at various times, course correcting in their understanding by risking sharing something of themselves that corrects, adjusts, or shifts the narrative that is unfolding as it relates to the experience the supported is sharing.

The supported cannot remain absolutely distrustful of the person offering support and expect to receive anything. The best a supportive person can do is knock, and create a warm welcoming and hospitable context in themselves and in the space between with which to engage. There can be no forcing in the reception of support.

The best a supportive person can do is offer relief of unnecessary suffering. (Ex, the difference between anxiety and fear, or the belief “no one will ever love me” to “I didn’t receive the love I needed from my parents”.) The supported is left with moving through the realistic pain and tragedy of loss, grief, sadness, anguish that is there.  The supportive one offering a context of acceptance and compassion acts as a midwife for the transformation of painful experiences. These experiences give rise to new growth, insights, and personality transformations that the supported can begin to access and realize having been in a holding space, an interpersonal womb of sorts, that inspire reconnection to life in the face of despair.

Show notes:

0:47  When receiving support, it possible to experience resistance from receiving it for fear of taking up too much space or feeling shame about the challenges one is facing.  We talk about the legacies of barriers that get in the way of connection. These can be thought of as “family rules” like “always be strong and never show weakness” “Don’t show others your feelings”

1:50 We explore the question “How do we provide support with people in our family who we feel have hurt us or that we have hurt?”

3:15  Sharon talks about the analogy of hula-hoops and how this relates to how each individual is responsible for their own hula-hoop, their emotional pain. Sharon critics therapy models that focus on the importance of couples providing empathy for each other without the balance of self-support.   People can get stuck in their defences that they are not available to provide support. At least one individual in the couple needs to soften and transition from blame/defence to a more grounded state of congruence before support and connection can occur.

6:00 Sharon talks about the power of receiving support from the third party. The therapist with couples creates space to look and connect to deeper energies of compassion, empathy and patience.

7:25 We talk about congruence and how important it is in an intimate relationship to be able to say to your partner whether or not you are available to give support and why or why not. The challenge in intimate relationships is the necessity of simultaneously holding space for oneself while also holding some space for the other.

8:37 Sharon shares a story of self-support and her grandson demonstrating this. In his struggle with his cousin, he asked for “private time” to get grounded and settled before reconnecting.

Tim shares that the children also received the supportive, validating and attuned connection with Sharon which helped them navigate that situation. The supportive context provides a safe space for difficulties to come up openly and to be dealt with intelligently.

15:00 Sharon shares her wisdom that we can be more supportive if we can see underneath the reactivity (e.g., blaming stance) to the experience of pain the other is likely having.  “What’s the pain behind this defence?” that helps her move beyond the defensive mode and personalizing.

Sharon talks about some gender differences; namely, that women have a tendency to placate and men blame.

The challenge is...

For men, it’s helping them feel the sadness, scared, loss and hurt underneath the anger.

For women, it’s helping them feel their anger without going to blame and resentment.

The challenge is helping people communicate their experiences (feelings and thoughts) from a place of ownership, directness, specificity and clarity rather than of blame. Instead of “You make me feel.....”, to simply “I feel sad and angry because when I come home and the dishes are always piled up my expectations to receive help from you on this task isn’t being met.”  

17:00 Sharon talks about how distant our meaning can be from the words we use to express our feelings and needs.  She describes how important it is to ensure that your words communicate the depth of your experience rather than assuming that your words have made the message clear to your partner.  This empowers and places responsibility with the one needing support to be as clear as they can be instead of hoping that their partner can know and mindread without clarity of communication. The one providing support can be empowered by being able to ‘check out’ the message and asking questions to clarify.  “When you said X, did you mean Y?”, “Have I got this right?” The exploration and curiosity are all ways of expressing compassion, care and support.

18:24  Virginia helped people differentiate between what is said, that is the words and tone heard and seen and the meaning and the interpretations that are created by the receiver of the message and how words and tone don’t perfectly manifest the thoughts and feelings of the one initiating the message. When people function from their assumptions and interpretations, it is easy to lose connection and to fail to provide support because the two people are not working with a shared meaning.

20:15  Putting out energy of trust and goodwill (as opposed to making negative conclusions)  is an active choice that people in intimate relationships can make to transform the energy between them and to provide support in the face of difficulties including conflict. Tim describes this as “Wishing for the best in the other person.” That the best character possible that inside the potential of that person could come out.  Another way of describing it is how encouraging and motivating it can be when we have people who see us for who we really are and believe us.

21:30 Around the theme of support, it is important to clarify roles and expectations. Who is the supporter and who is the supported?  What does the one being supported really need? Can the supportive give this?

Post Show notes:

We don’t cause the emotional states of others. We cause the event which leads to the pain. We can be responsible for the event and demonstrate understanding and support to the feelings the other is having but we can not take responsibility for creating emotions in someone else because to do so would be to disempower the other and to overstep our boundaries.

We can own our reactions and response to things including our emotions, for hypothetical example, while fear may be a reasonable response to a person perpetrating abuse, I never want the perpetrator to own my emotional response in the present. I want to take that back and even though I can’t change my emotional response of the past, I can have empathy and understanding towards it now. I can acknowledge the wisdom of such a response...and now in the present moment, I can clarify when I want that fear response or not and make conscious choices about how I behave.

Support of the third party and The importance of community.

The importance of family, support from friends, siblings, work colleagues, and parents and grandparents. To help us step outside of ourselves.

We put so much emphasis on our partners to be the be all end all, that it’s just too much. We need to enrich and expand our social connections so it is a community of support. And we can benefit from the wisdom of a larger group.

Sharon describes the children playing in fantasy for 2 hours after this incident. Play is the energy you transition into from supportive context.  Play is the optimal state of learning. Support first which means a respectful, accepting, safe context, which Sharon helped facilitate.

21:30 Around the theme of support, it is important to clarify roles and expectations. Who is the supporter and who is the supported?  What does the one being supported really need? Can the supportive give this?


Being grounded


Being present

Holding the space


Responsible for asking

Responsible for giving feedback

To be their own choicemaker