Support, according to Oxford Languages, is defined as “a thing that bears the weight of something or keeps it upright.” This definition implies that there are two separate entities at play: one that is falling because of its weight and another that is preventing the fall by holding it up.
When we apply this to ourselves, we may imagine that there must be another person to save us when we are falling, and we may have beliefs that we are not able to get up by ourselves. Without a secure support system, we may feel stuck in our struggles, unable to escape negative thoughts, and/or waiting for the right person or moment to save us.
Supporting ourselves seems counterintuitive against this definition. We need someone else to hold us up, right? What if I told you that the actions that we take in the present can support us in the future? We can build foundations for ourselves now that better prepare us for challenging moments yet to come.
It sounds simple as I type it out, but I know that it is not that easy. That’s why I want to share a bit of my story with you:
If you’re like me, a raised people pleaser, then the idea of supporting yourself may seem outside of your nature. Being a people pleaser is like trying to climb a mountain, but instead of climbing it alongside everyone else, you stay behind, making sure that everyone else is supported to climb, giving them your food and water when they ask without saving any for yourself.
I grew up in a household where we assisted many of my struggling family members, allowing them to share space with us in our home. I learned early about the privileges that I had compared to some of my family, and, while I naturally wanted more attention as a child, I looked up to my cousins and sought approval from them and from my parents. I learned that I could avoid conflict and receive approval when I allowed them to control the situation and contained my own thoughts. After all, they were the ones that needed help, right?
While supporting her family, my mother also worked full time. She often came home very stressed, compelling me to nurture her and find ways that would make her feel better. When I was unsuccessful, I put the blame on myself and constantly assumed that I was responsible for everyone’s negative behavior around me.
After many years of this kind of conditioning, I developed codependent relationship patterns, making it hard to distinguish my own personality as I continuously suppressed my needs and desires. I developed low-self esteem that evolved into my adulthood as avoidant behavior, causing me to shut out others, hoping to avoid feeling like I was being taken advantage of. With time, I realized that I couldn’t help others because I wasn’t helping myself.
It’s wonderful when we can support others on their journeys, but the value of helping others first can contradict us fulfilling our own needs.
Support is all about balance. We are individuals that need love and support too, and we can only achieve this balance when we are content with ourselves first.
It took years for me to fully understand this negative behavior pattern. While it can be very challenging to overcome this deeply ingrained habit, I have learned ways to cope and to support myself so that I can recognize these patterns better and discover who I truly am.
Once we recognize that we can support ourselves, we can practice building foundations and habits into our daily lives that will help us grow and face the challenges to come:
How to Support Yourself
Therapy. I cannot suggest this enough. Having the courage to admit that I needed help is one of my proudest moments in life. It was through therapy that I learned about my codependent behavior and how it affected my self-esteem and how I treat myself. Asking for help is the best way to support yourself — no one is going to know that you are struggling unless you tell them.
Feel your feelings. If we constantly suppress our true feelings then there is no outlet for them and they bottle up. After many years of doing this, I lost sense of who I was, as I let many of these emotions define me when they really just needed to be let go. Our bodies constantly send information to our brains, telling us what they need. If we take these moments to tune in and listen, our sense of self becomes stronger as we learn to identify these sensations and support what our bodies are telling us.\
Set Boundaries. It is always okay to say no. Like I mentioned previously, if we check in with ourselves frequently to recognize what we feel, we learn what we are okay with and what we are not ready for. We learn to set boundaries against others so that we no longer feel the need to satisfy them at the expense of our own satisfaction. With practice, it becomes easier to state your case when you decide not to go out to that party so that you can get enough sleep before work.
Through my experience, I truly believe that you cannot invest your love and support into others until you have invested it in yourself first. After separating myself from relationships that didn’t offer me mutual support, I practiced the tips above which allowed me to experience myself in a way that I have never before. I never recognized how much of my codependent behavior was blocking my true personality until I took a step back to examine the sensations in my body and mind.
And with that I leave you with this quote:
“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
About the Author
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Alex is currently studying English at UNLV with a concentration in creative writing. When she isn’t studying, she enjoys music, traveling, vegan/vegetarian food, and spending time with her rottweiler. She is passionate about mental health and hopes to spread awareness through her writing.