How to take care of yourself while supporting a friend who’s in a challenging relationship

Many of us have been there, a close friend or family member that we care about is struggling because of a relationship issue. They went through a break-up, divorce, grieving a loss of a partner, themselves or their partner is struggling with their mental health, or they are in an abusive relationship. We want to be there to support the people we love and care about. However, there is an important component to taking care of others that is often forgotten about and that is self-care.


Taking time for your own needs when someone you care about is struggling can sometimes be internalized as selfish or not supportive, but it is actually fundamental to ensuring you can continue to help those around you. What does self-care look like when supporting others?


It looks like…..


1. Remembering to take care of our health

Check-in with your own health. Are you drinking enough water? Exercising how you like to? Eating balanced meals and eating regularly? Sleeping well? Ensuring our basic needs are being met enables us to better cope with ourselves and support others.


2. Asking for support yourself

Even if you aren’t going through a personal crisis yourself, helping others can impact your wellbeing but you don’t have to support someone on your own. Recognize your own support network which could be comprised of friends, families, or professionals (e.g. therapists, psychologists, social workers). Crisis lines such as the Klinic Crisis Line and Sexual Assault, Manitoba Suicide Line also accept third-party calls (calls relating to the concern for a human being who is not yourself) from those who are supporting others and need support themselves. Don’t be afraid to reach out yourself, getting support yourself is important for your self-care. These are other resources your loved one can use when you are not available.


4. Recognize your limitations and identify other useful resources

When we are supporting someone, we want to do everything we can to make them feel better, improve the situation and make the problem go away. It is important to recognize that you can’t always fix a situation or make a problem go away. Even when we do our best, we can’t control the choices others make. A friend may choose to stay in an abusive relationship, and this can be frustrating because we want the best for our friends. However, they solely are in control of making the decision to leave the relationship. It is just as important to support decisions to stay in relationships as to support decisions to leave.


However, you may want to also be there when they feel unsafe or need support. But It is also important to think of backup plans if you are unavailable because sometimes you will be and that is okay. Other resources that can be useful include crisis lines, suicide lines, emergency services. (For comprehensive lists for issue-specific on-campus and community resources check out HealthyU health packages). It can also be important to remind yourself that the people you support also have the power to make positive choices to keep themselves safe and help themselves cope. You are never the last resource.


This list is not exhaustive but rather a few examples to prompt reflection and consideration into your own needs when you are taking care of others. Ultimately, supporting others begins with supporting ourselves.


References:


Beyond Blue. Self-care for the supporter https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/suicide-prevention/worried-about-someone-suicidal/self-care-for-the-supporter


Trevor Education. Self-Care While Helping a Friend. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Helping-Friend.pdf



Healthy U is a group of peer support educators at the University of Manitoba.

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