Therapists like me provide a lot of support to clients. But, in my opinion, support from a therapist is not enough to create the kind of meaningful, peaceful, connected, vibrant life that most of us want. Even support from a therapy group is not enough.
We need more. We need community.
A supportive community is a group of people who will help you through difficult times and celebrate with you in happy times. It is a group of people who have a commitment to you and who are there when you need them.
For some people, their nuclear and extended families1 serve as their supportive communities. If you have a family like this, you are truly fortunate. While you may still benefit from adding some friends into your support network, you already have much of the support you want.
For others, their families are not providing the kind of support they want and need. Many people have never experienced feeling fully supported and connected, not even as children. When I talk to clients who have this kind of history, they often say that they don’t know how to find the kind of support they want outside of therapy.
How can you develop a supportive community for yourself? Here are some ideas to try:
- Start with one friend or acquaintance and build from there. If you have anyone in your life whom you like, that person can be the start of your supportive community. Work on building your relationship with that one friend. Schedule regular times to get together. Then, when you meet another person you’d like to get to know, do the same with that person. If it’s doable, introduce your friends to each other and do things with both of them together. Then add another person. And another. And so on.
- Offer support to others. If you are already part of any group of people, look for opportunities to support other people. Do a favor for someone. If someone is sick, bring her some soup. If someone is sad, offer to listen to him. Organize celebrations of people’s birthdays or other special occasions. When you offer support, you help to build community for everyone, including yourself.
- Join an already existing community. Find a political group you can support, join it and start going to meetings and events. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Find a religious or spiritual community and start going to weekly services. Look on-line for opportunities to connect with others who are like you in some way (try a Meet Up in your area, for example). Join a sports team. Find a community chorus. There is something out there for everyone, you just have to find it.
- Use social media to help build community. If you already use Facebook or Twitter or other social media, use your on-line connections to help you create a community off-line. Look through your on-line “friends” and see whom you’d like to know more. Then invite them to get together with you in person. Social media can be very useful in this way, but I don’t think it’s an adequate substitute for having a community of people you see in person. E-hugs are not the same as real hugs when you need them.
Developing a supportive community for yourself requires time, effort and commitment. Try to be patient and allow your community to develop gradually. It takes a while to find the right people and to develop trust with them. If you find you have difficulty building a supportive community, or that others are not responding to you in ways you would like, you may benefit from improving your communication skills or exploring your problems in relationships. Psychotherapy might help you with that.
- While a spouse or life partner can certainly be a source of support, I don’t think it’s possible for one person to provide all of the support that another person needs. It puts way too much strain on the relationship. [↩]