Showing and Seeing Support

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about well-being. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

Last week, we turned our attention to others and began to explore positive relationships. We started with the simple fact that ‘other people matter’.* More than that, we discovered that mattering matters. As humans, we all derive well-being from a sense of mattering and the ability to contribute value to those around us (1). Adding value helps us feel valuable and creates a virtuous cycle that builds our feelings of capability (1). 

But not all relationships are created equal. Some relationships support our well-being, while others drain it. Invisibility, privilege, inequality, and helplessness are all barriers to relational and communal well-being (1). So, what contributes to positive relationships? 

Listening is a great place to start. So, I invited you to try Other-Focused Listening three times last week. If you’re like most folks, you tend to listen with the question of ‘How does this effect me?’ in the back of your mind. Other-Focused Listening centers on the question - “Why is this important to them?” Your time and attention can be powerful gifts to others. They signal to loved ones and strangers alike that they matter.

Did you accept my invitation?  If so, what did you discover? Did you enjoy engaging with someone else and really listening for the iceberg beneath the surface? Was it difficult? If so, did anything in particular help you to set the stage and/or prepare to be an effective listener? 

This week, I want to talk about perceived support. 

Have you ever stopped to consider when you feel most supported? Is it when someone shows up for you? Verbally expresses their appreciation, gratitude, or love? Performs an act of service? Gives you a gift? Or offers a warm hug? Well, it turns out that the way we feel supported is not necessarily the way another person feels support (2). It’s possible to feel like we are being supportive of someone else when they actually don’t feel supported by us.

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What matters is perceived support. 

Perceived support is key for positive outcomes and successful relationships (3). When we share our stories in a trusted relationship, we give the other person an opportunity support us. It’s a bid to obtain understanding, validation, and caring (3). The reverse is also true. When someone is sharing their story with you, they are giving you an opportunity to provide understanding, validation, and caring. Let’s take a closer look…

Perceived support consists of three things:

  1. I believe you understand me. (I feel seen. You know my qualities, opinions, goals, emotions, needs…)
  2. I think you value, respect, and validate me. (I feel appreciated.) 
  3. I perceive that you care about and support me. (I see your kind actions.)

Perceived support is both personal and dynamic. Just as our needs change in a given situation, so do the needs of our friends, family members, and partners. 

The way we respond matters.

Folks tend to see how clear communication and support are critical in moments when things go wrong or we wish to resolve conflict in a relationship. We want to know that our loved ones will be there for us when times are tough. But did you know that how you respond to the good stuff is also key? It turns out, that we also want to know that our loved ones will be there for us when things go right (4).

Think about it for a moment. A celebration with yourself is not nearly as much fun as celebrating with someone you care about. On the flip side, we’ve likely all experienced a moment when someone squelched our joy either intentionally or unintentionally. How we respond to positive moments matters too. 

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This is another reason why Other-Focused Listening is so important! Don’t just listen when things aren’t going well for someone. Tune in when things are going right. You will likely learn something new about how to support the person you are listening to, and what you learn may be surprising!

Remember, positive emotions broaden and build our resources (5) creating an emotional contagion that impacts those around us (6). When we share good things with someone else and make a bid for support, we give them an opportunity to capitalize or enhance our positive emotion (7). We can do this for others as well. By capitalizing on positive emotions, we can create an upward spiral to build our relationships (5, 7).

But how?

We communicate. We are not mind readers. We need to discover and share how and when we feel supported. This week, I invite you to get curious and examine how you feel support in order to share that information with a loved one. Think about a time in your life when you felt incredible support from a loved one. Write out the scenario and take a look. Then try to come up with other examples. Can you identify a theme in these stories of support?  

If you would like to take it a step farther, do this with someone you love. A dear friend, parent, or partner - it doesn’t matter as long as you can both look back and point to a time when you felt supported by this particular person. Take a few minutes to think about and write down a time when you felt valued, appreciated, and cared for within this relationship. Think about when you perceived support from this individual? What were the circumstances? What did they do? How did it feel? Invite them to do the same. Then, share your highlight moments of support with each other and watch what happens.

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I hope you enjoy exploring perceived support this week! Join me next week as we continue to explore how to respond to others when things go well.

As always, gratitude for the expertise of the following resources.

References

1. Prilleltensky I. Promoting well-being: Time for a paradigm shift in health and human services. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2005; 33(66_suppl), 53-60.

2. Chapman G. The five love languages: the secret to love that lasts. Northfields Publishing; 2015.

3. Reis, H, Shaver, P. Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In S. Duck & D. F. Hay (Eds.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (pp. 367–389). New York: Wiley; 1988.

4. Gable S, Reis H, Impett E, Asher E. What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2004; 87, 228–245.

5. Fredrickson B. Positivity: Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. New York: Crown Publishers; 2009.

6. Fowler J, Christakis N.  Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal, 337, a2338; 2008.

7. Langston C. Capitalizing on and coping with daily-life events: Expressive responses to positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1994; 67, 1112–1125.

* “Other People Matter,” is a quote from Christopher Peterson, an esteemed professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and science director of the VIA Institute on Character.

** Special thanks to Andrew Soren for his tips on “Other-Focused Listening”.