Show your true support for those close to you with these 6 research-based tips.
During difficult periods of life, such as experiencing a tragic loss or sudden break-up, those you care about need you to be there for them. At other times, your loved ones may not need help, but at least would like some support and encouragement. It’s well known that receiving social support is one of the best and most effective ways to cope with stress. People who perceive themselves to be supported are also most likely to be happier, and may even live longer than those who don’t. New research on social support for parents of autistic children shows just how you can be the person on whom your loved ones can most rely.
The aging parents of adult children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) undoubtedly face major challenges in their daily life and, according to this new research, benefit tremendously from the type of social support that friends and loved ones can provide. Christine Marsack, in the School of Social Work at Eastern Michigan University, teamed up with Preethy Samuel of Wayne State University (2017), to investigate the role of social support in mediating the amount of perceived burden and quality of life. As the authors point out, caregiving research on adult children and their aging parents has typically focused on predicting burden in the children. There is far less known about what happens to aging parents when it’s the children themselves who are in need of caregiving.
The Michigan team based their work on the cognitive model of stress and coping, in which it’s the appraisal of an event as stressful that leads it to have a negative impact on the individual. In the case of parents of children with ASD, after coping with the challenge of receiving the diagnosis itself, their next step is to come “to grips with the condition and obtain access to support services to assist with caregiving” (p. 2379). The question that Marsack and Samuel investigated was whether formal or informal social support would have ameliorating effects on parental stress.
Using a sample of 320 parents aged 50 and older, the majority of whom were under 70 years of age, the research team administered an online survey inquiring about psychological quality of life, perception of caregiving burden, contact with formal support agencies, and perceived degree of informal social support. Formal supports were used heavily by sample members, including psychiatric, financial, counseling, and adult day care, for example. Even the relatively wide range of opportunities to get help in this way was not enough to stave off the effects of perceived burden on parental mental health outcomes. Instead, it was their answers to a six-item questionnaire of informal support that proved to be key in reducing their perceived stress.
The questionnaire used by Marsack and Samuel was one developed for use in assessing perceived availability of social support by coronary heart disease patients that has been widely adapted to other situations. It’s from this measure, known as the Enhancing Recovery in Coronary Heart Disease (ENRICHD) Social Support Index (ESSI), that we can now look to see how you can support people coping with challenges in their own lives right now:
1. Be available to listen.
The ESSI asks whether there is someone who will be available to listen when needed. This means that you provide a sounding board when the person who needs your support approaches you. It doesn’t mean that you provide help regardless of whether you’re being asked for it. Let the person you care about know that you’re willing to listen, uncritically, when the situation demands it.
2. Be available with advice.
When you are approached for help, providing advice can prove to be very supportive. Again, providing unsolicited advice isn’t perceived as particularly supportive, but being ready for it when asked will help ensure that your advice hits a receptive audience.
3. Show love and affection.
Without providing anything in the way of objective support, it’s often enough just to know that someone cares to help get the stressed individual through tough times. The love and affection could be of the face-to-face form, and it's probably best when it is, but it can also come in the form of virtual cheers.
4. Help out every now and then with daily chores or by running errands.
This is something you need to be able to do in person, so if you live some distance away from the individual you would like to support, it may mean that you take a trip there every few months to do some of the heavy lifting around the house, or just help with some on-site logistics.
5. Support the individual during the decision-making process.
The person you care about may have to come up with plans that require more than just a sounding board or advice. Being patiently willing to go through the steps required to solve the problem can give the person you care about a more balanced perspective than would be possible if he or she were making this decision alone.
6. Be a person who the person you care about can trust and confide in.
The ESSI inquires about being actually present, but if this isn’t feasible, that quality of being trustworthy seems to be key. Caring for an adult child with ASD may have led some of the parents to wish they could talk about their frustrations, perhaps even about those they felt toward their spouse, with someone outside the relationship. Worrying that the person they told might violate that trust would only add to the stress of their situation.
You might think it’s enough for the person you care about to sign up for an established support network or to be able to receive financial or emergency assistance. The Marsack and Samuel study shows that the quality of the friendship, trust, and sensitivity you provide that can make an even greater difference.
There’s no way to avoid all of the stressful situations that life can present, whether through family situations, work problems, or emergencies. Fulfillment in our relationships involves, as this study shows, that willingness to give the support that will make the most difference in helping those we care about.
Cre: Psychology Today
“To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.” – Jack Kornfield
Holding on to pain doesn’t fix anything. Replaying the past over and over again doesn’t change it, and wishing things were different doesn’t make it so. In some cases, especially when it comes to the past, all you can do is accept whatever it is you’re holding on to and then let it go. That’s how everything changes. You have to let go of what is hurting you, even if it feels almost impossible. Deciding to hold on to the past will hold you back from creating a strong sense of self — a self that isn’t defined by your past, but rather by who you want to be. Oddly enough, painful feelings can be comfortable, especially if they’re all you know. Some people have trouble letting go of their pain or other unpleasant emotions about their past, because they think those feelings are part of their identity. In some ways, they may not know who they are without their pain. This makes it impossible for them to let go.
If you find it hard to let go of the past, a bad relationship, grudges, etc., these 12 tips could help:
1. Understand that the relationships you thought you’d have are going to be different than the ones you actually have.
We must accept the person we are in this moment, and the way other people are, too. As time goes on, we continue to learn that things don’t always go as planned — actually, they pretty much never do. And that’s okay: If you become aware of yourself and your part of your relationships, they will improve; however, you may also have to accept facts about certain people in your life. Practice gratitude, appreciation, and trust in the process.
2. Don’t be invested in the outcome when it comes to dealing with people, because it often leads to disappointment.
Expectations have a way of keeping us stuck, because they lead us to fear certain outcomes. There are no guarantees in life, and there’s nothing we can really do to get the outcomes we desire when dealing with others. When our expectations or needs aren’t met, we need to respond rationally and appropriately. Sometimes this means setting respectful boundaries; other times, it means letting go.
3. Don’t live in chains when you have the key. We live with self-limiting beliefs that we let define who we are.
We think, "I could never do that!" or "I could never make that happen!" If you truly believe that, you’ll never accomplish your goals. Open up your mind, and believe in yourself. There will be many people who tell you that you can’t do it. It’s up to you to prove them wrong.
4. Let go of the idea that you can control others’ actions. We really only have control over ourselves and how we act.
You can’t change another person, so don’t waste your time and energy trying. I think this is the biggest factor that pushes people to hold onto unhelpful behaviors, like the need to please. We think, “If only I do everything for everyone, they’ll never get mad at me.” Wrong!
5. Only worry about what you think of yourself.
Free yourself from being controlled by what other people think. Start to prioritize how you feel about yourself. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” You can’t live by your values if you’re living for the approval of others.
6. Leave room for mistakes.
Did you make a mistake or say something stupid? It’s okay! Use the experience to learn and make a joke. It doesn’t make you stupid to say something wrong or silly: it makes you human, and sometimes even funny.
7. Accept the things you cannot change.
Stop wishing things could be the way they once were. Bring yourself into the present moment. This is where life happens. You can’t change the past; you can only make decisions today to help how your future turns out.
8. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
This will allow you to relax and enjoy life's journey. I laugh with myself and at myself all the time.
9. Do what scares you.
Fear holds us back from doing a lot of things, because it closes our minds to possibilities for our future and locks us into our comfort zone. Most fears fill us with doubt and “what ifs” that imprison us. The more you do to get out of your comfort zone, the more fear will subside. In life, do what scares you, and you’ll grow and succeed!
10. Express what works for you.
Find your voice, and share with others what you’re thinking and feeling in a rational way. If you continue to communicate with others what works for you and doesn’t work for you, you’ll no longer bottle up your emotions. Expressing yourself is an important part of feeling good about yourself and your relationships.
11. Allow yourself to feel negative emotions.
Whether you lost a loved one through death or a break-up, honor your loss. Trying to ignore your negative emotions will extend your suffering. Loss is difficult to experience, and it’s okay to allow yourself to hurt and be sad. Let yourself feel, and go through the grief process so that you can move forward.
12. Learn forgiveness.
Resentment and unwillingness to forgive will keep you locked in the past and prevent you from moving forward with your life. Remember: When you forgive, you aren’t doing it for the other person; you’re doing it for yourself. If for no other reason than that, forgive and let go.
Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” There’s a lesson in that for all of us: Try to let go of whatever it is that’s holding you back from experiencing yourself. You’ll probably realize that you are not what other people say you are. You are not your pain, your past, or your emotions. It’s the negative ideas about ourselves and our hurtful self-talk that get in the way of who we really want to be. Being able to let go requires a strong sense of self, which gives you the ability to learn and grow from your experiences.
Source: Psychology Today
We'll go to the doctor when we feel flu-ish or a nagging pain. So why don’t we see a health professional when we feel emotional pain: guilt, loss, loneliness? Too many of us deal with common psychological-health issues on our own, says Guy Winch. But we don’t have to. He makes a compelling case to practice emotional hygiene — taking care of our emotions, our minds, with the same diligence we take care of our bodies.
I was seated on an airplane next to a middle-aged business traveler in a charcoal gray suit, white shirt, and maroon tie. I’m not one for idle mid-flight conversation, but the man was feeling chatty. He asked what I did for a living, and I told him I was a psychologist, to which he replied, “Oh! A rent-a-friend.”
His premise was simple: Psychotherapists are friends for hire. If you had real friends, you wouldn’t need to pay a therapist. In the intervening half-hour conversation, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince this otherwise intelligent man that there was more to therapy. He was dead set on the belief that therapy couldn’t possibly work, at least not any better than chatting with an acquaintance.
He’s not alone. Since its inception more than a century ago, many smart people have attacked talk therapy. Sometimes the detractors are former clients, reflecting on their particular therapists’ blunders, unethical practices, or lack of skill. These critics make an important point: There’s no excuse for bad therapy. But we don’t judge the field of medicine by the worst doctors, or the field of engineering by the worst engineers. Other critics have made more sweeping arguments.
Indeed, psychotherapy has an image problem. But the evidence of its effectiveness is ample and expanding. Hundreds of studies show that the vast majority of people benefit when treated with appropriate psychotherapy. Therapies are studied in much the same way as medications: Researchers recruit a large sample of people suffering from a particular mental disorder — say, Major Depression — and randomly assign some to receive a particular type of psychotherapy, while others are assigned to one of several control conditions, possibly including no treatment, a sugar pill, a medication, or another comparison therapy. Although the numbers vary from disorder to disorder, studies like these show that therapy helps between 60 and 80 percent of people, as long they’re treated by a competent practitioner with techniques appropriate to their disorders. The studies aren’t perfect, of course, and all research studies are subject to some form of bias, but the convergence of evidence certainly doesn’t support the notion that psychotherapy is ineffective.
So why do people continue to believe that therapy doesn’t work?
First, some people have a hard time believing that talking can make a difference. We talk all the time and it doesn't necessarily fix our problems. But psychotherapy is very different from the kind of conversations we have with our family members, friends, or colleagues. In fact, conversation might not be the best metaphor for psychotherapy at all. In many ways, therapy is more like teaching and learning. Instead of learning about mathematics or chemistry, however, clients learn about themselves and the tools that can solve their particular problems. An experienced clinical psychologist friend once told me that his goal is to teach his clients all of his tricks, giving them the skills to be their own therapist. Anyone who's ever gone to school knows that, when students and teachers put in the necessary effort, education can change people’s lives. So why wouldn't psychotherapy?
A second reason people doubt that psychotherapy works is that, at one point in time, it probably didn't. In 1952, Hans Eysenck, a skeptical research psychologist, wrote a scathing critique of therapy in the Journal of Consulting Psychology. In it, he reviewed the research available in that era, concluding that psychotherapy worked no better than the mere passage of time. He was right. Given the state of psychotherapeutic technique at the time, you probably weren't any better off seeing a therapist. But most of the therapies in use today didn't exist six decades ago. After all, Eysenck was writing when physical diseases like polio and tuberculosis were still ravaging the American populace. Healthcare in general has come a long way.
The last and perhaps most significant reason that people doubt psychotherapy works is that our society has a cynical streak when it comes to believing in people’s abilities to change. We seem to doubt the ability of human beings to be resilient. People often think that mental illness, trauma, and addictions are destiny — once you have them, you’re doomed to a life of pain and suffering. I noted this in a piece I wrote for Psychology Todaya few years ago in response to the crash of a Germanwings Flight 9525, which killed 150 people. In this particularly sad case, the crash seemed to be deliberately caused by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who was determined to commit suicide. In response to this tragedy, voices in the media implied that, because Lubitz had been treated for depression several years earlier, he shouldn't have been allowed to pilot a commercial aircraft.
Without a doubt, Lubitz should have been prevented from doing what he did that day, but nearly one in five people will suffer from Major Depressive Disorder during their lives. In fact, almost half of Americans will have a mental illness at some point in their lifetimes. Stopping all of these people from working in industries like aviation only makes sense if you assume that they simply cannot or will not ever recover. But given what we know about the effectiveness of psychotherapy (not to mention psychiatric medications), this simply isn’t a reasonable assumption.
The biggest difficulty with these anti-therapy beliefs is that they can prevent people from getting the care they need. The idea that mental illness is somehow untreatable can understandably make people reluctant to admit their conditions. According to research, people with depression often cite the fear of what others will think of them as a barrier to treatment. Moreover, even when people are willing to admit their problems, they’re unlikely to seek therapy if they believe it’s ineffective. This is exactly the opposite of what we should want as a society.
So therapists definitely are not rent-a-friends. And while the man seated next to me on the plane that day may never change his mind, the doubts of a few should not stop the rest of us from getting the care we need and advocating that others do the same. As a psychologist, I’m actually not allowed to provide therapy to my friends. But, if a real friend of mine were suffering from mental illness, I wouldn’t hesitate to advise them to seek therapy — not because they don’t have friends, but because therapy is so much more.
Cre: Psychology Today