Becky’s blog: Becky’s dos and don’ts for peer support

July 8, 2014

By Becky MacLean

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At some point in our lives we will need support, or be asked for ours. Every person is individual and their needs will vary. Keeping that in mind, the following lists are things that I’ve found helpful. Feel free to add and change things as they relate to your own needs and experiences with giving and receiving peer support.

If you need support:

DO

1) Ask someone you trust.

The people in your life care about you; they will want to help you out if they are able, but they might not know what you want and need for support if you do not ask (be specific about what you need, if you know). Asking someone you trust will allow you to feel safe, and comfortable — which, for me, is essential in opening up and allowing myself the vulnerability to reach out in an honest, and true to myself way. You might need to ask different people for different kinds of support in order to get what you need, and that is okay.

2) Be patient and compassionate with yourself.

This one is really difficult to do, especially when you are not in a good way. Drink water, rest, eat healthy and delicious food. If you are able, do things that you know help you feel good such as run a bath, watch a movie, dance around the living room/park/grocery store, play with bubbles, climb a tree, etc. The little things add up, and the more you can do to help your mood and your mind space, the better.

3) Avoid self-harm and destructive behaviours.

For some people this one is easier than other, but learning your habits can be a really useful tool for self-care and for asking others for support. You can learn to take better care of yourself, and ask others to help keep you in check, too. When I am feeling down and need support, I want to eat all the sweets — candy, chocolate, ice cream. Eating sweets is okay in small amounts, but when I am not in a good mind-space, I eat too much, and then I feel ill or sugar crash. My roommates and friends know that if they see me with a bin of gummy candies, that I probably need some support and they reach out to me. Let the in your support circle know what to look out for, so they can give you better and more timely support.

DO NOT

1) Expect others to solve your problems

Sometimes reaching out for support you get all the help you need and feel 100 per cent better, but that isn’t always the case. Remember that the people in your support system are human, too; they might make mistakes and sometimes you won’t get the support you were looking for. This can be really disappointing. If one person misses the mark, maybe you can direct them as to how help you better, or you try asking another person.

If you are asked for support:

DO

1) Listen attentively.

Listen to the kinds of support that you are being asked for. If your friend has been specific about their needs, please respect that. When they are talking, listen to what they are saying. If you have questions or comments, please wait until they are done to share them. Do not interrupt them — they have reached out to you because they trust you and value your friendship. Interrupting them puts your needs ahead of theirs and betrays the trust that they’ve shown in reaching out.

2) Validate their feelings.

Let them know that whatever they are feeling, wherever their head space is, that is okay. You might not understand why they are feeling the way they do, but they need to know that they are in a safe space to share those feelings. You might not understand or agree with how they feel, but remember that it is their experience and not yours, they are dealing to their own ability and that is okay.

3) Ask how you can help.

They might not have an answer, but if they know, they will tell you. If they don’t know, it might be helpful to offer advice, or suggestions of things they can do. Personally, I do not really like it when people try to give me unsolicited advice but it can be helpful. Just know that if you try to offer help, advice or suggestions without being asked, it might not be well received. It may cause your friend to rethink reaching out to you in the future. As a good measure, ask first about what you can do and then consider what, if any advice, you are willing to offer.

4) Keep a positive/neutral attitude.

This one can be tricky; you don’t want to invalidate anyone’s feelings. Everybody reacts to a positive attitude differently. It can be helpful, or it can cause your friend to think that you don’t value their feelings. A neutral attitude can be helpful, because it lets your friend know that you are there, to listen and be with them but it doesn’t try to change their feelings. Meeting them where they are in their experience, and their head space gives them room to be okay with their current situation and then move forward from that.

DO NOT

1) Compare experiences.

Even if two people could have the same experience, they would react to it differently. Each experience is individual and it is important to respect that. It is not helpful to draw comparisons between the experience of your friend and the experiences of others.

In our world of cancer and cancer survivorship, the need for peer support is very common. I hope this list has been helpful, and in the very least has been some good food for thought.  Feel free to pass this on, add and change things as they relate to your own needs and experiences with giving and receiving peer support. Take care of yourself, and take care of others. The more we know, the more we grow.

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