10749281973_bc18abcc7aMy friend, let’s call her Tara, recently got diagnosed with cancer. Her friends hooked her up with the MealTrain. While she heals, Tara can have warm, healthy and nutritious meals delivered to her door. Tara feels so good from getting this daily support, love and care, without even asking.

I used to be an anti-support person. Somehow, I felt like I wanted to handle everything myself. It seemed easier. Ask for help from others? Why? They might say “no.” Support wasn’t something we talked about at my house anyway. I knew it was healthy for other people to get support. But me? Nah.

Where does that come from? This discomfort about asking others for support?

I know from working with clients and seeing my friends’ relationships that seeking support and accepting it is hard for many people. Why is that? I think it is a conglomeration of factors. First, our culture is one of self-sufficiency. The whole idea of capitalism is based on a model of survival of the fittest, top dog wins.

How about the fact that many of us come from the immigrant mentality which includes the idea that if you work hard, push hard, survive, you can do it without help from other people. Talk about needing to be self-sufficient.

My husband’s Slovakian aunt was put on a boat from Slovakia when she was 16. Her family told her they couldn’t feed her and she needed to go. That was it. No teary farewell or letters afterward. In fact, her family had no contact with her after that. Not surprising she was a very bitter woman when I met her at age 75. She said to me upon our first introduction, “You young people! You know nothing. You have it easy. ehhh…” And she waved her hand at me and rolled her eyes. Nice to meet you too, lady.

My grandmother was a Swedish immigrant. My dad said his mother, Hilder, never complained and never cried. He said the only time she asked for help was when she broke two ribs and an arm, and only two hours later (without pain medication ) she proceeded to cook dinner. She then quietly asked my dad (13 years old at the time) to set the table for her. This was the ONLY time. Wow.

How comfortable are you in getting support? Do you see it as a sign of weakness?

Research consistently shows that support helps people get healthy, and it promotes emotional and physical wellness. Still, sometimes I reach out to a friend when I know they are struggling and they wiggle, stutter and change the subject. I am sure you have seen this. “Oh, it’s all fine. Let’s talk about you!”

How comfortable are you in giving support?

Some people, even women, don’t know how to support other people. They can’t talk about feelings, they get squeamish and weak-kneed if someone cries. These people have an incredibly difficult time managing difficult emotions in others. They are liable to cut off a friend when they are struggling or going through a difficulty. These Uncomfortable With Support People tend to wait until the storm has passed and not ask any questions.

I remember complaining about a friend who did not seem supportive, and another friend said, “Cherilynn. Not everyone is built like you. Some people just don’t know how to do any of that.” She went on to tell me that my friend’s mother never said a consoling word to her, she was expected to never cry, and she grew up with hard-line parents, people willing to cut her out if she didn’t play by their rules. The expectation of external strength through control of emotions was the standard. Any deviation was unacceptable.

What are the benefits of getting support?

Warm feelings, feelings of security, acceptance and love. These can be a strong counter to negative feelings.

Time for renewal and getting your strength back. Someone else can hold up the tent for a while

Reassurance and acceptance in a world where it is easy to self-doubt. When I am not feeling okay about myself, I feel unsure. But these great people are mirroring that I am okay, so I must be okay.

Trust in other’s perceptions of the world. Hope and optimism from others can help your state of mind. That’s why people go to church. Sharing faith promotes faith. Same with this.

You are not alone. Nobody wants to feel alone in the world. It just doesn’t feel okay.

If you are struggling, I encourage you to call a friend, speak up and, if you need help, ask for help. Sure, there’s a chance the person you ask might have to say “no” or be unavailable, but I have found that good friends are there more often than not, and that could be such a help. We live and work in a world with so many pressures, demands and disappointments.

I once had a friend call me crying and show up at my door. I listened and shoved a bunch of Girl Scout cookies at her. We laughed and totally pigged out on Thin Mints. Her tears dried up and she was fine by the time she drove away. We both felt a little better in this big ole wide world just having shared that time together.

Support changes everything.

Take care, cherilynnvelandSM

About the author: Cherilynn M. Veland, MSW, LCSW, is author of the forthcoming book Stop Giving It Away. She leads a new self-advocacy movement intended to help women reach out, speak up, and take action steps for what’s best for them. Please support this effort by liking the Facebook page and/or subscribing for updates on my blog. You can also connect on Twitter and Google Plus.

Picture of support by Compfight.