If you have a narcissist in your life and are unwilling to go no contact, a strong social support network is imperative to maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing. It’s also critical for ensuring you can set and maintain strong boundaries that prevent emotional and physical abuse. Your social support network consists of friends and family you can trust to have your back. Building that network means finding allies who will always be on your side.
There are different types of social support, and it’s important to have friends or family who provide you with each type. The key to building a strong social support network is to find people to listen to your problems, brainstorm ideas, comfort you when you feel down, and help meet your needs.
A strong social support network is necessary for anyone, but it’s particularly critical for those who must deal with toxic people on a regular basis. In fact, a recent analysis by an expert at the University of Granada found that a strong social support system has significant positive impacts on your health, including an increased lifespan. Building a social support network can be challenging, particularly if you have been isolated by a toxic person in your life. This complete guide to building a strong social support network and why it’s important will help you gather your crew!
How to Build Your Social Support Network
Many people have trouble reaching out to the people in their life for support. It’s also true that many people don’t have people they trust to be an effective social support network. If your parents are narcissistic, for example, you might have few people in your life you can turn to in a time of need.
A helpful truth is that you really have two families in your life: the one you are born into and the one you choose. Your social support network does not have to include family members. It can consist entirely of friends you’ve met through time.
It’s also helpful to know that you don’t have to have a lot of people as part of your social support network. It can consist of just a few close friends. The point of such a network is to get your support needs met. This can mean just having one close friend who you can talk to in times of need or it may mean having several friends or family members you turn to when you’re down.
It’s also possible to have friends who you typically turn to for different types of problems at different times. The idea is to have someone who can help you process your feelings as you navigate the challenges of life in general, particularly if you have a narcissist to deal with.
You really want to have people you can talk to help you brainstorm ideas when you need to find solutions, comfort you when you feel overwhelmed and emotional, and help you problem-solve so you can ensure your needs are met. That’s what a social network does.
What Exactly is a Social Support Network?
Quite simply, a social support network consists of your friends, family, and peers to whom you can turn to in difficult times. This is different from a support group that might help you deal with specific problems such as an alcoholic or drug-addicted spouse. Support groups are often run by a mental health professional whereas your social support network is made of people you know and love.
Both a support group and your social support network can provide help and comfort in times of stress. A social network, however, is more accessible to you at a moment’s notice. It’s not something that has to be a formal setup. It can be as easy as taking a coffee break with a friend or chatting with a neighbor.
You might also find support and comfort from your church or your close family members. Even places where you volunteer can be a source of support when you need help. Really, all a social network is a group of friends, family, and acquaintances who can help or comfort you when you need it.
You’ll also find that they are able to offer helpful suggestions. When you are under stress, it can be difficult to see your way out of the problem. Sometimes, something a friend says can provide the inspiration for trying something different. Just a simple word of comfort can help you find the courage to keep going. That’s all a support network really is, but it’s an incredibly important part of your life.
What are the Types of Social Support Networks?
There are actually several different types of social networks. In the most general sense, a social support network simply refers to helping behaviors from within a network of people you know and trust. But what it really does for you is help you see that you are loved and valued by others. As mentioned, a social support network can be people who are part of your family, your romantic partner, and your close friends.
But coworkers, classmates, and neighbors can also be sources of social support. More specifically, you can actually break down social support into four different categories. They are the following:
This is the type of support that consists of information you need and also advice you might receive from someone who understands what you are going through. They can provide you with information about resources that might be available to you or even strategies you might use to resolve a problem.
This is the type of support where you receive some kind of tangible assistance like money or goods or services. For example, you might have friends willing to loan you money or help you do something like move or build something you need. That would be instrumental support. Essentially, it’s where people give you something tangible that you need.
This is probably one of the most important types of support you can receive. It refers basically to having someone provide you with love, warmth, empathy, reassurance, and emotional care. Getting a hug from your sibling or friend, for example, would be considered emotional support.
This is the type of support you receive where someone helps you to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you might be trying to work toward your professional goals, and as part of that process, you might ask a good friend to help you determine what your purpose is in life. You might think that only you can make that decision, but in reality, sometimes your friends, family, or even coworkers can see things about your character and abilities that you are too close to the situation to see.
How Do You Build a Social Support Network?
Building a strong social support network involves finding the right people you can trust to have your best interests at heart and taking the appropriate steps to maintain those relationships. Here are the different ways you can do just that.
1. Identify Your Peeps
To build a healthy social network, the first thing you need to do is identify the people in your life that help you when you feel down. Who do you talk to when you need a friend? Which of your friends or family or acquaintances seem to appreciate you for who you are instead of who they think you should be?
If you need a champion, who stands up for you, even when they might not completely agree with what you’re doing? Think about who you go to for advice when you’re not sure of what you should do next. Does a close friend help you work your way through a problem you’re having? Do they provide a springboard to bounce ideas off?
When you think about who you turn to in each of these situations, these are people who are great choices for your social network. These are the people with whom you want to strengthen your relations and ensure that you are giving to them as much as they give to you.
Anyone who is toxic might seem like a friend at times, but if they are criticizing you, or worse, berating you, they are not part of your social network. Narcissists can be very charming at times, but their interest is always ultimately in helping themselves. They aren’t really interested in boosting your self-esteem, and they aren’t capable of empathetic behaviors.
To really identify the people you want to include in your social network, think about how they make you feel when you’re around them. People who are good candidates for a social support network are people who make you feel valued and who work to help you improve yourself. If they are only interested in what you can do for them, these are not your peeps.
2. Cultivate Your Network
Once you have identified your peeps, you want to cultivate those relationships. Spend quality time with those people you want to be there for you when you’re down. Be there for them when they are down.
It’s a give and take relationship, so you want to also be a good friend to them. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, give that good friend a quick phone call to let them know that you would like to find the time to get together.
If you’re having trouble identifying people you want to include in your social network – something that is not uncommon for people who have been isolated by narcissists – then take the time to volunteer to do something you think is important. You’ll meet like-minded friends doing that, and they can become part of your social support network.
Another way to cultivate more friends for your support network is to join a club that does things you’re interested in doing like hiking or painting. You might even consider joining a gym. You might even take a class that you find interesting. Of course, in our modern world, there are also opportunities to meet people with similar interests online.
These are all ways you can grow your social support network. By reaching out to the world around you, you will find people who share your interests and can quickly become good friends. It’s easy to withdraw, especially if you have low self-esteem from the emotional abuse you’ve received at the hands of a toxic narcissist.
It’s important to remember that those toxic people have a selfish interest in keeping you isolated. The truth is that you have value, and you just need a good support network to help you remember that fact.
3. The Give and Take of Social Networks
As already mentioned, a social support network is a system of give and take. It’s really the foundation of those relationships. You have to actively participate to nurture them so that they can stand the test of time.
That means you want to stay in touch with old and new friends. Take the phone calls, make time to see them, let them know you care, and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come. Another part of giving in such a relationship is to avoid competition.
Be happy when your friends succeed. Don’t be jealous of what they have in their life. They’re your friends, right? So be happy for them. It’s also important to be a good listener.
Find out what it is your friends value and why by listening to what they are saying. Listen to their problems too and offer the best advice you can give them. If you don’t have any advice, just give them a hug and let them know you support them through thick and thin.
Don’t be too demanding of your friends’ time. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by constant phone calls or emails and neither do they. This is one of the reasons it’s helpful to have several friends as part of your support network.
You should also appreciate your friends and family by letting them know how much you value them. Tell them what you see as their good qualities and express your love for them. These are your peeps, after all, so make sure they know that.
Finally, give back to them when they are in need. If they call you up crying, make the time to listen to what is happening and give them support. All that good will come right back to you.
4. When You Need More
When you feel a need to boost your social support network, there are many ways you can find even more support and help. If you’re feeling a little lonely and it seems like no one really has time, you can also get some support from a non-human friend. Pets can offer many of the same benefits that humans do, especially when you consider that they love you unconditionally.
You can go to an adoption center to find a new addition to your family or take in a stray. You’ll be amazed at how much a pet can make you feel loved and valued. In many ways, the emotional support a pet provides is even better than what you can get from many humans.
You can also take up a new hobby to find more like-minded people. Community centers, gyms, and schools are all great places to find interesting things to do and new people to meet. You might also consider volunteering. It’s a great way to feel like you’re really making a difference, and you can meet many kind, compassionate people doing the same thing.
Your religious affiliation can be another source of a boost for your social support network. Spending more time getting involved in church activities can easily bring new people into your life. It helps you feel more spiritually connected, and that spirituality in and of itself can help prop you up when you feel down.
You might also just take a walk through your neighborhood. Sometimes we forget that there are many people around us who might also be looking to make a connection. You might consider becoming involved in your HOA or just knock on your neighbor’s door and say hi. They might just be waiting for a new friend too.
What is the Science of Social Support Networks?
There have been a number of studies that show social support networks are good for your health and wellbeing. These social networks can easily mediate how you respond to stressors in your life. One study in 2010, for example, has shown that social support was the most important factor in how college students dealt with feelings of dissatisfaction after their transition from school to work failed to meet their expectations.
For at least 50 years, epidemiologists (people who track patterns and causes of diseases and injuries) have been examining the impact of strong social support networks on health. Early studies focused on people who had been widowed, but in the latter part of the 1970s, they began looking at how social networks and support affect different health outcomes.
The results were astounding. They showed that people with more social and community ties lived longer, and in fact, those with fewer social ties were more than two times more likely to die than people who were socially engaged.
That prompted researchers to take a look at how social support affects other health factors, and they found that social support networks have a significant positive effect on numerous health-promoting and risk-taking behaviors. Quite simply, having strong social support networks has a positive effect on your mental and physical health to the point where it increases your longevity.
For those exposed regularly to toxic people like narcissists, a strong social support network is essential for maintaining a positive mindset and achieving your life goals. A narcissist will not help you in that way, and for that reason, you need a lot of other supportive, loving people around to pick you up when you’re down.
What are the Risks of Social Isolation?
It cannot be understated just how harmful isolation and loneliness can be for you. A 2013 study by experts at the University of Chicago showed that people experiencing isolation and loneliness had poorer cognitive function. The US Department of Health and Human Services also notes that there are other risk factors associated with isolation, including high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and depression, among other problems.
These risks are part of the reason why social isolation can shorten your lifespan. It is important to note, however, that you can be in a roomful of people and still feel lonely, and you can be completely alone, but feel happy and satisfied. The social isolation I’m talking about here relates to people who experience loneliness because they have a lack of close contacts with whom they can share their problems.
As previously mentioned, you can have just a few close friends and that is enough if they provide you with the social support you need to process your emotions and experiences. Likewise, one bad apple, such as a narcissist, can make you feel incredibly lonely no matter how many people you have around you. That’s why you need quality social connections with loving people who have your best interest at heart. They will help you be the best person you can be and live your best life.
Social isolation and loneliness pose serious health risks and can significantly reduce your lifespan. It’s essential for everyone to have a strong social support system to help them process emotions and experiences, particularly when they’re experiencing difficult times. A strong social support system can consist of just a few close friends or it can include several friends and family members. The important thing is that these are people who genuinely care for you and can help you work through life’s challenges.
A narcissist in your life complicates the situation since they can make you feel incredibly alone and they try to isolate you so they can better manipulate and control you. To prevent narcissistic manipulation, one of the best things you can do is get control of and heal your emotional triggers. This free copy of my 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers can help you do just that. Just click on the link below this video, and I’ll send it directly to your inbox for free!
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