Vallarta Tribune, Apr 16-22, 2006, issue # 471, pg 19

Most of us find support from our friends, family members, and colleagues on a daily basis in informal settings that promote and create bonds between us. This type of support is indispensable and we cannot imagine our lives without it. Of course, there are some of us who have never known these types of friendships or relationships and are very unfamiliar with the power of sharing with others and seeking support from others. Nevertheless, it is a very important part of our emotional health and growth and something we must never surrender striving towards.

We are not alone!

There are times when we need more specialized specific support like the kind a support group or therapist can provide. We may need the safety ofanonymity and confidentiality before we feel ready to share particular experiences and feelings. Part of what makes us feel safe is knowing we are not alone, that there are people who understand us and care how we are doing, that can truly empathize with us and our situation, and most importantly that are capable of supporting us in a productive, effective, healthy way.

That capacity comes from either having been through similar experiences before and therefore being able to relate to others at a level unbeknownst to the rest of us or from having been professionally educated and trained to treat certain problems, traumas, and emotions in a way others can not.

Support groups exist for a reason

Support groups bring people together who have had similar experiences. There is something very healing about hearing someone else describe an event or the way they feel in a way that is so similar to your own experience that they could be telling your story. It is very validating to realize that you are not the only one who has been through “it” (whatever trauma or dysfunctional family experience or drug addiction, etc) and it is veryencouraging to realize you can recover from “it.” They represent the possibilities and the hope of recovery. They know the way down the unknown path and they will accompany you and guide you in your process. They will support and applaud your efforts…What an incredible feeling to have someone that you can identify with or that can identify with you!

There are specific support groups for so many problems and traumas such as: grief and loss, rape, sexual abuse or incest, and 12-step programs for alcohol and drug addiction, families of addiction, codependency, and adult children of alcoholics.)

Support groups also provide us with a way to measure and compare our experience in terms of consequencesintensity, pain, destruction, andloss. The people and their experiences provide a face of reality that what we are going through is real, tangible, unexaggerated. They are also living proof that you can heal, move on with your life, and resolve certain emotions. They can “show you the way” if you are humble enough to allow them and to benefit from the wisdom of their journey.

Therapy can provide what’s been missing

Therapy is supportive in many ways as well. Group therapy accomplishes many of the same things as support groups in terms of validation and an opportunity to learn from others, but with a different tone and from a slightly different perspective. It also provides an opportunity for many lessons in a safe more controlled setting (which is the responsibility of the therapist). For example, the therapist teaches new ways of behaving, responding, and managing and expressing feelings, which are learned through interactions with other group members, and then practiced outside of group in personal relationships. Additionally, individual therapy can provide the most private intimate setting creating a sense of safety unattainable any other way. There are things a person only feels comfortable sharing and processing in individual sessions. Therapy is non-judgmental, non-shaming, and invites you to risk revealing yourself in order to grow.

Regardless of our past, of what our childhood or our families did or did not provide, we can intentionally seek out people we believe can positively influence us, reflect back positive encouraging messages, reinforce our strengths and positive attributes, and give us recognition for our efforts and accomplishments.

Admit you have a problem and ask for help

For some of us the hardest part is to admit that we have a problem. Admitting we have a problem, or admitting that we weren’t able to recover from a traumatic event the way that we think we should have, is very difficult. Other people have great difficulty asking for help. We must ask for help. We must not let shame or embarrassment be an obstacle. It is very difficult to ask for help if you think you should be able to do it alone; on your own, or that it makes you weak to admit that you can not do it alone. Maybe we don’t want other people to know we have a problem or experienced a trauma because we are ashamed, or think they won’t understand, or won’t be supportive. Whatever the reason, we must not remain bound with shame, trapped with our secrets, or isolated. Reach out!