“You’re my person.” Three words that can feel so sweet to hear, even sweeter sometimes than being told “I love you.” Being someone’s person is not necessarily a testimony of romantic feelings but instead a token of being essential in a number of different domains. In other words, you are utterly needed, you are a rock. A delightful dynamic that, when it works, seems to work effortlessly. Feeling like you are the only two people in the world can feel incredible, whether in a friendship, familial relationship or an intimate partnership. However, speaking from experience it’s important to be aware of the double-edged sword that swings when an emphasis is put on one person alone. Research has consistently shown the importance of building up a support system of numerous folks, strengthening not only the mental health of everyone involved but also affecting physiological traits. artil breaks down the value of support systems and suggests some tips on how to build one if you haven’t already.
Especially during formative years as women, navigating friendships and sources of encouragement can be pivotal to developing a strong sense of identity and independence. Being able to balance leaning on others while also giving yourself the space to find comfort in the discomfort is a healthy alternative to focusing all of your efforts on one person. A great way to think about this dynamic can be found in Bell Hook’s book All About Love. While primarily offering an expansive lens into the abstract notion of love, she also delves into the romanticization of emotional dependency; “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” What hook articulates so well, is that we often fail to balance the weight between trusted ones, and instead have normalized the tendency to rely on one person alone.
You probably know the feeling; you’re going through a really tough time, and you’re dying to talk to your best friend or significant other. It could even be your aunt or your neighbor, just that person that gets you and what you’re going through. You call and they don’t answer. You’re trying to get through, but they’re just not available. You don’t want to talk to anyone else, because no one else will get it like they do.
You might begin to feel like they’re not there for you. It may feel as though they’ve neglected to show up at a time when you really really needed them. On the other hand, maybe you know how it is to be going through something yourself, say a period of burnout. Your person, whom you deeply care about, is also going through a hard time and requires a lot of emotional support at the moment. It’s taking a lot of energy to keep yourself afloat, leaving little capacity for finding the right words to encourage someone else. Maybe your person is facing a hurdle that you can’t possibly understand, or vice versa. In all scenarios, relationships can be riddled with resentment as a result of high expectations. In comes the importance of having a support system.
A support system comes in all shapes in sizes, the key lies in its foundation of several different pillars. By relying on a network of individuals in facing all of life’s bumps, not only do you expose yourself to variations of thought and perspectives, but you also balance the weight. What happens when your person isn’t there? You call someone else who is close to you. What happens if they don’t understand? You have a group of people who relate to different hardships. What happens if you don’t have the capacity to be there for your person? They have others they can comfortably lean on while understanding your momentary absence. Studies have shown that having a support system leads to reduced rates of depression, anxiety and even cardiovascular disease. In fact, having numerous individuals to lean on has been linked to living a longer life.
So, where do we go from here? We know the benefits of having a support system and the dangers of romanticizing codependency. Now, we can talk about some tips on how to build, or strengthen, a support system. Primarily, normalize having hard conversations. It’s something I’ve struggled with in the past but letting a close friend know “I don’t have the capacity to be there in the way I’d like to be right now, but I love you and want you to know it’s not personal,” goes a lot further than silence. It can be awkward or nerve-racking, but it sets the basis for having emotional flexibility in your relationships. It can also be helpful to open yourself up to new or old people in your network. By taking social risks or checking in with old ties, you never know how someone may be able to relate to your experiences. Also, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. That can be a solid pillar in your support system, and they’re all paid for that stuff. artil encourages readers everywhere to check in with themselves and gauge their support systems. Do it for your cardiovascular health!