This is the fifth in a 7-blog series about support for parents and caregivers of special needs children. It can also apply to other situations. Because the best person to find solutions to your concerns is you, prompts and exercises are provided to gently lead you in your best direction. Click here for the first blog in the series or here for the previous blog.
You can begin to take power over your circles of support. Yes, you! It begins with becoming more conscious of your relationships and then nurturing those that nurture you.
It’s that simple. You are already handling a complex, ongoing situation with your special needs child(ren). You deserve to minimize as best you can—or even to rid yourself of—relationships that drain you. Conversely, you deserve to be surrounded with caring, supportive people who lift you up.
Consciously navigating relationships is smart time management. And as all parents know, our time is precious.
Mismatches in support systems
If you experience a mismatch between your systems, it’s tempting to try to fully engage in both—encouraging relationships that uplift you, as well as those that you feel you “should” maintain. But the reality is that you can’t do it all. Give yourself this gift of self-care: prioritize the people in your Pragmatic System.
You deserve to minimize as best you can—or even rid yourself of—relationships that drain you. You deserve to surround yourself with caring, supportive relationships that uplift you.
How do we make the switch?
Let’s consider how we might consciously, gently, and graciously shift our relationships. Can we nurture the ones that support us and gently let go of ones that don’t? If that’s not possible, can we at least set healthy boundaries to avoid being robbed of valuable time and energy?
A key word in that last paragraph is “consciously”. We often forget we have much power to shape our lives through our choices and actions. It’s common to settle into the status quo of the Idealized Belief System, and easy to accept less-than-ideal support as “just the way it is”. But by consciously choosing to focus on relationships that support us and choosing to minimize those that don’t, we invite more support and peace into our life.
Two other key words: “gently” and “graciously”. I don’t suggest drastic action or abruptly cutting off contact with significant people, although that might be appropriate in some cases. I don’t even suggest that you gradually cut off contact with certain people. You know the details of your life; you must discern and decide what’s appropriate for you.
Become conscious of who’s who
What I do suggest is that you become aware of which relationships best support and nurture you. I suggest that you support and nurture them in return—including any new relationships that show potential. Be willing to challenge any previous priorities from the Idealized Belief System.
You can decide what relationships to nurture by observing how you generally feel around that person. Basically, do you feel lifted up or pulled down? With that answer in mind, set your goals.
Nurture the Supporter and minimize the Naysayer
Let’s imagine your Naysayer sister-in-law invited you to a tea she’s hosting on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, your neighbor—a Supporter—mentions that it would be nice to relax and catch up over a long-overdue cup of coffee that day. You’re busy and must pick between the two, and this will be your only “adult” outing all week.
The Idealized Belief System would send you to your sister-in-law’s. But the Pragmatic Belief System suggests that you’d find it more rewarding to chat with your uplifting neighbor and nourish that supportive relationship.
So you graciously bow out to your sister-in-law—without over-explaining or over-apologizing—and go enjoy that cup of coffee. Do it with grace and dignity. Instead of coming home stressed, you come home refreshed.
Small choices add up to positive life changes
Conscious, consistent decisions about whom we interact with—whether that be in person, on the phone, or through email, texts or social media—powerfully shape our life. It’s a matter of discernment, and about being willing to examine, challenge, and change our long-held beliefs.
And those people who should be supportive according to the Idealized Belief System, but aren’t? Their life paths may be very different from yours. They may simply be unable to, or choose not to, understand and support you and your family the way you desire. That’s okay. They are free to believe and behave as they choose.
Your role is to accept this, and to know and trust that your higher power will provide you with support. You bless and release the people who disappointed you—or release your expectations of them—in whatever way makes sense to you, and without negative judgment or resentment.
That’s easy to say and hard to do in some cases. Forgiveness can sometimes be a life’s work.
And if your inner circle is currently empty?
As mentioned before, that’s not uncommon. Most of us are lucky to have one or two people in this category, so don’t despair. Believe that your benevolent higher power loves you and won’t leave you in this situation for long.
You may not have an Inner Circle now, but by consciously shifting your relationships to focus on people who uplift you, you make room for them to come in further. Continue to be grateful for what you have, and be optimistic about the future. You may not know how, exactly, but you trust that more support will come.
In the next blog, we discuss how we can get significant support for ourselves, from ourselves. Although it’s a common misconception, especially when children are involved—and most especially when special needs children are involved—honoring yourself and your own needs is quite different from being selfish.
You may notice that Steps 1) and 2) feel repetitive. But, they are incredibly important. Expressing gratitude for what you have, and optimism about the glorious things to come, are lynchpins that will lead to positive changes.
1) In your journal or notebook, continue to notice and record instances of support you receive—both little and big—as well as additional support you desire. Feel grateful for what support you do have, as your gratitude makes space for even more help to come into your life.
2) Continue to review what you desire in terms of support and add to your list as new ideas occur. Try to feel optimistic and truly believe that more support will soon appear. If this seems like a stretch, it may help to say this affirmation aloud several times a day, “I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but more support is coming to me!” If these words don’t sound like ones you would use, then substitute your own to the same effect.
3) Review your notes about mismatches between your Idealized Belief System compared to the Pragmatic Belief System. Examine your beliefs about these relationships. Consider ways to shift your relationships, slowly and gently, so that you consciously nurture those that nurture you!
4) Journal about all these ideas. Trust your own thoughts and feelings, even if they go against long-held ideals. As you write, you may find that new ideas and insights occur to you. Be open to that. Remember, you have more power than you think to shape your life.
5) Gracefully implement these relationship changes as circumstances and opportunity allow.