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Psychologists often note, that mutual exchanges of social support are an important aspect of personal strength and wellbeing. Everyone has a network of relationships with other people which they build over the course their life. It is this network that helps individuals to cope with various problems or to avoid them all together.

In crisis situations, the network is a priceless resource of available help. Moreover, the mutual exchange of support usually happens in a natural way, “I will help you and you will help me”, and it does not require asking for assistance, which sometimes may be embarrassing or humiliating. This natural exchange happens only if people nurture their relationships. Building a support network when the times are tough is usually too little too late.

Invisible Safety Net

Poles tend to be a settled society and their circle of family, friends and acquaintances is usually rather stable. If your situation is similar, you might not even notice how much energy and support you derive from your direct environment. Spoiled by this abundance, you might disregard the importance of the people in your close circle, but you might notice the absence of your support network, when some big changes occur in your life. For example if you move to a different city or get divorced, your close network of family, friends, and friendly neighbors disappears or diminishes. When it happens, you might lose your sense of security and you need to build a new support system.

Lack of support impacts your mood, health and the strength of your development. Americans, who statistically move 17 times in a lifetime, have researched this phenomenon extensively. Therefore, support network building skills, such as extending help to others, accepting support and using it in the right way, are very important. The crucial aspect of support network is reciprocity.

Types of Support

Support can have many faces:

  • Emotional support - creates an atmosphere of caring and warm feelings. It protects you from loneliness, because there are people around you, who will hold your hand, encourage you and be with you during difficult times. You can trust them and tell them your secrets.
    It answers your call “Help me, I am down”.
  • Informational support - it helps you to better understand your environment and the surrounding world. Thanks to this type of support, you can see your problems from a different perspective, verify your judgements and discuss important issues. Informational support is provided by people, who have patience to listen to you and who want to understand you.
    It answers your call “I don’t know what is happening to me and I don’t understand the world around me”.
  • Self-esteem boosting support - it is the source of admiration and acceptance and it boosts your self-esteem. It helps you to fulfill your social roles and to assess other people and phenomena.
    It answers your call “I am useless and I can’t do anything properly”.

  • Instrumental support - it encompasses various types of instructions and advice, for example how to proceed in various situations, where to find the required information, where to go, and who to approach to complete various actions (e.g. how to get a drivers license).
    It answers your call “I don’t know how to do this”.

  • Commodity exchange support - it includes all kinds of commodity or service exchanges and financial help.
    It answers your call “I cannot manage”.

  • Social-recreational support – it provides you with a company for leisure activities, travel and it motivates you to being active. It also helps you to relax.
    It answers your call “I am tired, overscheduled and overworked. I have enough. My life is boring”.

Reciprocity and Respect

As you can see, the support network answers many of your needs. In practice, different people provide different types of support and if you have a circle of friends that provides all of them then you are very lucky. Sometimes, you might find the whole support package in one person. If you do come across such a treasure, cherish him or her, but remember not to overburden them and, most of all, do not be upset, if in a moment of their own weakness, they will not be able to support you. It is also very important to return the favour(s) and support those that support you in the time of need. It is not only about the balance in the relationship, but also about being needed.

In truly good and supportive relationships you experience mutual caring, understanding and responsibility for each other. However, support may also turn into control, domination and possessive attitude towards the person needing help. It happens when there is no mutual respect in the relationship and when one party, instead of an accepting and caring attitude towards the other person, presents a domineering attitude; when the “supporter” thinks they have power over the “needy” person and knows better what is good for them, and when the “supporter” demands obedience in following his or her orders. This is a case of toxic support.

The word “respect” has been slightly forgotten and sometimes it is understood only in terms of savoir vivre. Meantime, it has a deep psychological meaning. Respect is the measure of one’s attitude towards others and of seeing value in every human being. Quite often people forget about respect in their relationships with children. They downplay children’s problems and treat kids as little people made of clay, who can be shaped according to needs and wants of adults.

Build Your Support Network

A support network is a bedrock that bolsters up your daily wellbeing. It depends on good communication with others, on sensitivity to their needs and the ability to let go of one’s egoism and egocentrism. Turning your attention form yourself towards others is easier than you think and it provides you with a lot of joy and satisfaction. What is most important, people around you begin to notice you. Someone has to take the first step and it might just as well be you. Weather you are in a stable relationship or live on your own, you need a support network. Keep building the network, strengthen it and take care of it.


The Polish version of this article appeared in Śląski Magazyn STYLE.

258 Katarzyna Popiolek

About the author

Associate Professor Katarzyna Popiołek – social psychologist, academic lecturer, Dean of Katowice Faculty of Psychology. Her professional interests include relationships, psychological support, determinants of close relationships, perception of time and its consequences as well as human behavior in crisis situations. She is an author of over 100 publications. As an educator and expert Professor Popiołek, often appears in the media to popularize psychological knowledge and to provide expert commentaries. In 2012, she was awarded "Platynowy laur Pro Publico Bono" [Platinum Laurel Pro Publico Bono] for her engagement in the local community in Silesia. In 2016, she made the list of ten most influential women of Silesia.