Be a Lamp, a Lifeboat or a Ladder: 50 Simple Soulful Ways to Support and be Supported
Slowly, I have changed. The power of support has become really clear to me over the last year and I know that without the support from the people in my life, my partner and very talented professionals – I could not have made it through the way that I have. In addition, I have learned that support truly is all around, even in the most unlikely places. In my darkest moments I have even asked twitter for help – and oh boy did I receive love – from friends, blog readers and complete strangers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Sometimes the right support arrives at just the right time … and sometimes it doesn’t. The list below is based on my experience, both the good and the bad. It includes support I love to give, support I would love to be able to give, support I loved to receive and support I didn’t get but desperately needed. I tried to write this list so that you can use the tips in a wide variety of situations – from the hardest of times to the greatest of celebrations.
I’ve realized that it really does take a village. Not only to raise a child, but to heal, to achieve and to thrive.
50 ways to support and be supported
Learning How to Give
Give of yourself with no strings attached
Giving of yourself freely without setting conditions or expecting something in return is fundamental for giving great support. If your support isn’t genuine and true, it will not be very effective. If you want to help someone, but feel that you need something in return, you might want to question your motives. Try to put yourself in the other person’s situation – they need your help. Chances are that they are in no position to even imagine being able to give it back. Expecting someone to return the favor might actually add to the burden for someone who is either in a very hard place or take the joy out of the situation for someone who is experiencing great success.
This is another cornerstone of compassionate giving. Make sure you are focused on being non-judgmental in your communication. Most people find it hard and even shameful to receive support and they are likely to pick up on any indication of judgement in your tone, your words or your actions. Even though you might have a hard time understanding your friends’ choices, try to keep your concern to yourself until the person is strong enough to have an open discussion with you about it.
Respect a “no, thank you”, but don’t take no for an answer
A lot of people will automatically say “no, thank you” when you offer to help. It is carved so deep in our psyche to be independent and self-sufficient and in a lot of cultures it is even considered polite to say no. When supporting the people around you, it is important to respect their boundaries and their comfort zones when it comes to accepting support. However, this does’t mean that they don’t need you! Respect a no, but make sure you make it clear that your offer is still standing should they change their mind.
If you don’t know what to say…
… then that is what you should say. Not being there, not saying anything can very easily be interpreted the wrong way. Just saying that you don’t know what to say can be a good way to show love and support.
Show, don’t tell
Actions are more powerful than words. If you want to show your support, literally do just that. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes: what would give you the strongest message of love and support? Someone saying “I’m there for you” or someone showing up on your doorstep with dinner and napkins when you have been made redundant? Thought so. This doesn’t mean that you should refrain from using words, but just keep in mind that actions will send a stronger message. The list below is mainly made up of actions, some simple and some more substantial.
Make sure the people you love unconditionally know that you support them no matter what. You might think that they already know that you’re on their cheerleading team, but it’s so easy to forget when you’re going through a challenging time. Make it super clear!
When your heart is aching, it can be frustrating to watch on the sideline and see people you love mess it up and not taking your advice. However, people need to make their own mistakes sometimes, so be tolerant and patient. If people don’t take your advice or decline your offers to help, give them time and continue your quest to support them.
Ask questions and show interest
Sometimes, all it takes is a little interest. If someone you know just got promoted, is studying a new subject or just had their first baby – show your support by showing interest in their new life. Ask questions and follow-up questions, ask to see photos and ask how the child is developing etc. When two close friends of mine had their first child, I remember talking about how this was the greatest experience they had ever had in their lives and they were disappointed when some of their friends didn’t acknowledge the fact and didn’t seem interested in their new life. I totally agree!
Be attentive and truly listen
This is also a cornerstone in effective support, and I believe this might be why so many people really appreciate having a good therapist even though they might not necessarily need a medical professional. Sometimes all you really need is someone who truly listens. Listening is an art, and it’s a powerful tool for support. Use it well!
When you want to show your support, help someone achieve or lift someone you know up from the depths, sometimes you just have to be a little creative. If you start out with an aim to help, care and show your love, you can’t really go wrong. Just follow your instincts and don’t be afraid to think a little outside the box.
Do your best
You might not be able to take the pain away, and you can not change the unchangeable. Sometimes you won’t be able to cheer someone up or no matter how much you try to sort out your calendar you end up missing your best friends wedding. It can be hard, but keep in mind that most people truly appreciate and recognize that you’re doing your absolute best. And the message behind that is a powerful message of support and love.
Learning What to Give
Deliver or send flowers
Sending or delivering flowers is a classical way of showing support. I might be a little biased here, since I used to work as a florist, but really, no matter the occasion – flowers are always welcomed. There are a few things to consider when sending flowers: be careful with your selection and always add a card. You might think that any flowers will be well received, but remember that flowers are often symbolical and culturally significant. You don’t want to send flowers that are usually used in funerals to someone who is going through a serious illness … for example. You also might consider not to send dark red roses to your ex who just got promoted, this miiiight be interpreted the wrong way if you don’t have any intentions of getting back together. Ask your florist if you are in doubt. The other thing to remember is always to add a card. This is easy to forget, but your friend will want to know where their support came from. Also, unless you are deliberately trying to confuse a lover, receiving flowers with no name on them can be a little creepy and you don’t want to accidentaly come off as a stalker, do you?
Send a card or letter
If flowers are out of the question and your friend is far away, sending a supportive handwritten letter or card is a really nice gesture. Regular mail is so uncommon these days, so your letter is likely to be well received! This is a nice show of support that can be used no matter if life is hard or if your friend is having a great time.
Just be there
Is your friend giving her first speech? Do you know an athlete or a performer? Or is your friend going to a frightening medical examination? Just being there is one of the most powerful acts of support you can give. Bonus points if you take pictures or hold their hand.
Write a note of encouragement
Again, it doesn’t take all that much effort to show that you care and support. When my friends from university were studying for an important exam 24/7, I wrote them a little e-book called The Manifesto of Encouragement. It was such an easy little thing for me to do, but I could tell it meant a lot to them! One of my friends even printed the document and hung it on her wall as a reminder.
Give away something that means something to you
When my boyfriend left for Australia and I was still in hospital, he left one of his sweathers with me. Being able to put it on to stay comfortable and warm really meant a lot to me at the time. If someone you know is going through a hard time, give them something that means something to you or something that can remind them of your support. A picture of you two together, write a story of your favorite memory or give them a piece of jewelry or something else to remember you by. These tokens of support really mean a lot to people who feel sad and alone.
Never leave their side
This kind of support is particularly powerful when someone you know is ill, dealing with trauma, anxiety or feeling insecure. Stay put and make sure they are feeling safe and at ease. Even during happier times, this can be a powerful show of support. I know some of my most supportive blog readers never miss a post. There are fans of artists and football players who never miss a show or a game. And there are parents who never miss a school theatre show or forgets an important exam.
Offer to help with everyday tasks
No matter if life is hard or you’re having a really great time – keeping up with daily life can really be a challenge. So, if you want to show your support and care, offer to help with simple daily tasks like grocery shopping and laundry. I promise you people will be relieved and very grateful.
This really goes with the point above – it can be really hard to cook and nurture ourselves with healthy food when you have a lot going on. Especially when someone you know is grieving, fighting illness or even just getting married or having a child – bringing food is wonderful way of showing your support.
Offer your listening service
Listening is one of the best ways of showing support, no matter the situation. Did you friend just get dumped? Did your partner just come up with a new business idea? The best way of showing support is to listen. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to respond, sometimes it helps just to share the pain, the grief or the happiness and excitement with another human being.
Have a party in their honor
Did someone in your life just achieve something great? Did they overcome an obstacle? Did someone get engaged, promoted or maybe someone you know just move to your neighborhood? Throwing a party, large or small, is a great way to support and celebrate.
Spread the word about success
I particularly love this way of showing support: if someone you know has made an achievement – help them to share it. Quite the opposite of gossiping and talking behind someone’s back, spreading the word about success is all about sharing your friends’s greatness with the world. Just make sure it is okay with your friend that you mention it to others before you begin.
Share the burden
“Let me carry some of that pain for you,” she said, pointing at her shoulders. “You might not be strong enough, but I am.” And with a lot of doubt and insecurity, I decided to let her. It turned out to be one of the most healing experiences I had in three months of hospitalization. Sharing the burden with someone, no matter if it’s just figuratively, can be a powerful act of support. Just knowing that you’re not alone can be the difference between bearable and unbearable pain.
Buy or create a present
Gifts are an easy way of showing support, no matter if the occasion is a wedding, a new job, a challenging illness or a lost job. Bonus points if you create something yourself, nothing can beat the power of a gift when love is sewn into the stitches.
Some presents are definitely better than others … right? The secret is getting something you know the receiver will be thrilled about. Personally, I’m a sucker for cute things like glitter, confetti and balloons. A good way of showing support is to pay extra attention to what your friend really LOVES. Nothing says “I support you” like a small and inexpensive gift that is just perfect.
Go the extra mile
Show your support by making it clear that you are willing to go the extra mile. Whether it is your family, your friends, your co-workers or your boss – adding that little extra effort can make all the difference. It’s not necessary to put your life or your reputation on the line, a small effort can go a really long way.
Give of your time
In our busy lives, time has become a valuable currency and people really appreciate it if you give of your time. If someone you know is going through a hard time, you can easily show your support just by being there for them. If you are able to take a day off work or to show up consistently, the message gets even louder.
Call instead of texting, show up instead of calling
If you can choose your response, always go for the option that involves the most personal contact. Think about how easy it is to just send a text or e-mail and how rare it is to get an actual call these days. Wouldn’t you appreciate it more if people called you to congratulate you for your achievement instead of liking it on Facebook? The same goes for meeting in person, if you normally call people, why don’t you meet them in person the next time you want to show your support?
Guide the way
If you have been there, done what they want to do or felt what they are going through – be a guiding light and help them to move forward. Again, knowing you are not alone is often the most important support we need.
Take your friend out for dinner/drinks/dancing/movie after it’s all over
When we are in the middle of something, good or bad, it can be challenging to be around a lot of people. A great way of acknowledging this is to wait until everything is over to invite your friend out to celebrate or to show your support.
Watch over someone while they sleep
If someone you know is ill or depressed, chances are that they feel frightened and alone too. When depression had a strong grip around my neck and had lost myself, I was in hospital with hospital staff watching me continuously. Most of the time it was really annoying, but when I was going to sleep and knew that someone would make sure I was safe – it was the best kind of support I could get at the time.
Refer your friends to others
This is a form of support that goes two ways: If you friend needs help you can’t prove, and you know just the right person for the job – giving your friend a referral is a great way to help. On the other side, if your friend is a service provider or just plain awesome – refer her services to others when you meet someone your friend could be able to help.
Support financially if you can
Money is such a loaded topic, and yet it is something we all worry about from time to time. Make sure you thread gently, but if your friend is dealing with heavy medical bills, unable to get a job or is just struggling to make the ends meet – consider to help them out. It doesn’t have to be much, you could ask them out for dinner or take them to a movie, or even offer to pay one of their bills. Just make sure you talk it through with your friend, to make sure there are no hidden issues between you. Keep in mind that although you really want to help, accepting money is one of the hardest things to do when you just can’t provide for yourself.
Remember important dates
Do you remember your friend’s kid’s birthday or your favorite blogger’s blog anniversary? A great way of showing your support and care is to make note of the little things like business anniversaries and exam dates. Also, is smart to make a note of the huge days too, like your friend’s wedding anniversary or your sister’s graduation day.
Create a photo album, e/book or collage
This idea is super if someone you care about is moving away, traveling or spending time in hospital. Create a collage with your best photos together and add some inspirational quotes and pictures. Another good idea is to have all your friends each write a page in a notebook. Use the other pages for pictures of you together to make a symbolic and supportive reminder of your friendship. If you’re not already full of ideas, I could add that a website with video’s and pictures (you could make it password protected!) would make an awesome gift too!
Use symbols, music and art
When I worked as a florist, I once sold a three as a wedding present. Isn’t that the most adorable and symbolic gift ever? When you want to show your support and care, a symbolic act can really take you a long way. Also, music and art can be really powerful – just do something simple like play your friend a really nice song or take your friend to see a great and inspiring artist. There’s a reason why there’s a lot of art in hospitals – although it might look wrong and overly cheerful – a beautiful, inspiring or thought-provoking piece or art can really give you an energy boost!
Sit with their emotions
We all know that emotions can be hard to handle, and sometimes it doesn’t really matter if they are positive or negative. Even the most awesome happenings can be totally overwhelming and confusing, just ask people who have won the lottery! When someone you know is emotionally overwhelmed, the best kind of support you can give is to be able to share their emotions without trying to “fix it, or hide it, or heal it” (quote from The Invitation by Oriah).
Be someone to count on
The best kind of support is the kind you can count on. Look at it this way – even the tiniest and simplest acts of support really grow when they are provided consistently. I’ll use an example from my own life to make this point: There are a few of you blog readers who always comment, no matter what topic I write about. Usually, the comments aren’t long, and it probably takes you about 30 seconds to leave one. But when I see the same name over and over again, it makes me feel like the most supported blogger in the world. It really proves to me that small acts of support, when provided continuously, become really powerful and helpful. That’s the beauty of support, a small and thoughtful act can really make all the difference.
Learning How to Receive
Practice saying “yes”
A lot of people, myself included, automatically say “no, thank you” when someone offers to help. Sometimes, it’s not even because we feel ashamed or want to be polite – we just aren’t used to saying “yes”. Practice accepting support in situations where you don’t have to depend on support and you’ll find it easer to accept it when you learn by experience how easy it can be.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
No matter if you’re feeling bad or you’re facing exciting times, do not be afraid to reach out to your community. Contrary to what you might believe, most people actually want to help you if you ask.
Let go of pride
Asking for, and accepting support from other people often feels like failure. I know firsthand that there’s a lot of pride involved, and it is easy to judge ourselves and talk ourselves down when we find ourselves in situations where we have to depend on other people. However, the truth is that no one can make it all alone. Try to reframe the way you look at the situation by asking yourself what you would think if your best friend was in your situation. What would you say to them if they were too proud and shameful to ask for help?
Let go of control
A huge reason why accepting support is so hard is because we have to let go of an element of control. For most people, letting go of control can be really hard, impossible even. This really goes no matter if you’re struggling or if you’re just receiving praise and support during a busy and exciting period of your life. Learning to deal with love and support can be scary too, especially if you’re in unfamiliar territory and/or if you’re used to making it alone. Learning to accept love and support means learning to let go of control.
To take the most of the support you’re receiving, trust is really important. When people give you support, how do you receive it? Do you trust their judgement and fully let the love and support sink in? A lot of people react by saying something along the lines of “Oh no, you really shouldn’t” or “thank you, but…”. Is this you? Receiving support means trusting the person who gives it to you enough to really let it sink in. As with all things, it takes practice, practice, practice.
Ask for what you truly need
People will usually try to support you by providing the same type of support they would need themselves. Sometimes this will be exactly what you need … and sometimes it won’t. Asking for what you truly need can be a challenge, but once you try it – most people respect your needs and will do the best they can to help you in any way that you want. Sometimes we have needs that we might think are inappropriate or just strange. However, confusing and seemingly inappropriate needs need to be met too. Learning to politely turn down an offer to help and ask for something else can be hard, but I think you’re likely to find out that it’s easier than you might fear.
Express your gratitude
This really goes without saying, but I’m including it just because it is so important. Being grateful is one thing, expressing it is another. Thinking about it, you can’t really be too grateful. Make sure the people who help, love you and support you know how important they are in your life.
Pay it forward when you can
You might not be in a position to give right now, but you will be. Being grateful is about paying it back. Help others as much as you can, as often as you can. This is your way to make the world a better place.
Make a list of people you know that support you unconditionally
This is a really powerful exercise which continues to help me when I’m feeling lonely and and afraid. I came up with this when I was in hospital after my boyfriend left for Sydney. I started to make a list of people I know support me and the list ended up being much longer than I thought it would be when I started out. I’m still adding names to the list and I take a look at it whenever I need a little boost of support.
Utilize social media
Another way I have learned to utilize support is to reach out through twitter. If you follow me already, you might have seen my tweets or even tweeted me back. They usually go along the lines of “I feel really lonely tonight, support anyone?” To be honest, I feel really uncomfortable with sharing my desperate and needy tweets, but I know deep inside that the way I judge myself is harsh and wrong. However, the response has been huge! People tweet me back with so much love, concern and support. And people keep thanking me for being so open and honest about the way I feel. I really want to encourage you to reach out through social media if you need a private cheerleading squad. Twitter is awake, even at 3 am in the morning when you just can’t let it go and sleep.
Consider professional support
It took me a few years, and I drained a lot of my support reserves from friends and family, before I realized I could use some professional support. Calling a therapist to get an appointment was a really hard step for me, but in hindsight I wish I had done it earlier. There are numerous benefits with professional support and I won’t get into all of them here. I just want to remind you that needing or wanting professional support is not a sign of weakness nor a last resort.
It’s easy to think that professional support is reserved for the situations where life is just plain hard. However, it doesn’t need to be. If you have a dream, if you’re working on a great project, or if you just want to get more out of life – professional support might be just what you need. In addition to a lot of psychologists and doctors, I have also been working with several life coaches and I can really recommend hiring yourself a coach if you want to up your game.
Look for support in unlikely places
This might sound a little strange, so feel free to skip this point if you’re not at all into this kind of thinking. However, I do believe that support can be found just about anywhere if only you start looking for it. Within the same month after I first admitted to myself that I wanted to become a life coach and a writer, I won a life coaching scholarship and a writing course scholarship on the same day. I mean, what are the odds? My experience is that if only you open up for the idea that support is all around, you will see support all around you. A sunny day just when you needed it? Some extra money coming in when you just spent your the last of your savings to start your own business? It might be just a coincidence, but if you start looking at it as support, you will feel supported.
Imagine how great our lives would be if support and love was easy. I’m willing to bet that if we all pay a little more attention to how we can support others, and a little more attention to how we can make the most out of the support we’re receiving, we will all feel closer to each other and more connected.
After all, supporting and feeling supported is just another way of loving and be loved ♥
What kind of support do you need right now?
This post was inspired (and brought to you) by…
The first time I was introduced to Tanya Geisler, I decided that when I would be able to afford life coaching, she would be the one. From the first time I looked at her website and read her words I felt a deep connection, the way she writes, the way she radiates gentle love. She’s just one of those people, her wisdom and connectedness just flow through the screen. Do yourself a favour and check out her work, I promise you it will be time well spent. This post was sponsored, but my words are not. I give you my word – Tanyia is support in human form and Board of Your Life is her signature product. Check it out!
Tanya Geisler is a certified business and life coach who simply cannot and will not shake her indomitable belief that if everyone knew and lived their values, they’d hold the key to shining in their life, in their work and in their life’s work. (Now, wouldn’t THAT make for a far more joyous world?) A catalyst, not a therapist, she wrote The Joy Pages, created Board of Your Life, and speaks with great passion on all things joy, meaning and purpose.