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Who’s in Your Big 5?

Feeling stuck for support? Unsure of what kind of support to ask for or how to ask? We get it. It’s hard to reach out for help and even harder to communicate the type of support you might be looking for at any given time.

There are five major types of support: inspirational, practical, emotional, companionship, and problem-solving. Depending on what’s going on in your life you may need more of one than another but all are going to be needed at some point or another.

The Big 5

1. Inspirational

  • Who they are: This is the person who’s able to inspire you whenever you’re feeling discouraged or unmotivated. They can remind you of the reasons behind your goals when you’re feeling down. This person truly believes in you and your abilities to accomplish what you’re working towards.

  • Traits: Encouraging, motivating, positive, optimistic

  • Things you won’t hear:You can’t do that” “Oh come on, be realistic” “What did you expect?” “You always quit on things” “Just give up, it’s not worth it”

  • Things you want to hear: “That’s awesome, you’re going to do great!” “That’s exciting, please let me know how I can help” “I know you can do it” “Just keep trying, you’ll figure it out”

  • Why you need this person: Internal motivation isn’t constant, it comes and goes. As a result, we all have those times when we feel discouraged and want to give up. Having someone that believes in us and can remind us of our motivation can help us to accomplish great things.

  • Useful tip: Often the way in which the inspiring messages are communicated is just as important as what is said. Think about what truly motivates you as an individual. Do you prefer the boot camp drill sergeant or the positive cheerleader? Not all people respond to the same style of inspirational support, it’s important to figure out what works for you.

2. Practical:

  • Who they are: This is the person who can help in those practical everyday ways. This person can help you move, pick you up from the airport, or bring over soup when you’re sick in the middle of a snow storm.

  • Traits: Reliable, Skillful, Dependable, Resourceful

  • Things you won’t hear: “Oh no I totally forgot” “Sorry I have to bail last minute” “You’re on your own”

  • Things you want to hear: “I can help with that” “I’ll be there”  “You can count on me” “I’m ready, what do you need?”

  • Why you need this person: Even the most independent of people need help from others at times. Having someone you can count on to be there makes certain experiences go a lot easier.

  • Useful tip: It’s important to remember that there can be many different types of practical support often linked to the person’s resources and skills. E.g. Someone who’s able to help fix your computer may not be the same person to watch your kids for the weekend.

3. Emotional

  • Who they are: This is the person who’s able to listen to how you are feeling without immediately trying to change or stop you from feeling that way. They’re good listeners and you know you can talk openly without being silenced, rushed, made to feel guilty, or that your feelings don’t matter.

  • Traits: Understanding, accepting, non-judgemental, and patient.

  • Things you won’t hear: “Ugh, don’t be angry/sad/etc.” “Just cheer up” “Get over it”

  • Things you want to hear: “That sucks” “I’m really sorry that happened to you” “You didn’t deserve that” “I’m not sure what to say right now, I’m just really glad you told me”

  • Why you need this person: Whenever you are experiencing intense emotions it is helpful to have them validated by someone else. This helps you to feel connected and understood.

  • Useful tip: Often conflict can occur when we are seeking emotional support but the other person assumes we need “Problem Solving” support. This can be frustrating for both involved and it’s therefore important to clarify that we don’t want someone to solve our problems but rather just offer understanding.

4. Companionship

  • Who they are: This is someone you’re able to have fun with. You have shared interests and enjoy each other’s company.

  • Traits: Fun, Entertaining, Enjoyable, Relaxing

  • Things you won’t hear: “No that’s boring, let’s not do that”, “I just really don’t like any of the things you want to do”

  • Things you want to hear: “Hey let’s go out this weekend!” “Want me to come over? We can hang out and watch a movie”

  • Why you need this person: It’s important to take time to relax and have fun with others. Finding the people who have shared interests will allow you to make the most of your time and enjoy yourself.

  • Useful tip: It can be difficult or intimidating to find ways to make new friends. Think of an activity you enjoy doing and find out if there is a club, team, or group where you can meet others who also enjoy that activity. If there isn’t a group yet, consider creating one yourself!

5. Problem-solving

  • Who they are: This is the person who can help when you’re stuck and not sure what to do. They offer useful advice and feedback on how to make improvements in your life. They often help you to discover solutions you may otherwise not have been able to think of on your own. Often coming from their own experience, they take the time to understand what’s going on and offer ideas that are useful to your specific situation.

  • Traits: Creative, Knowledgeable, Experienced, Wise

  • Things you won’t hear: “Oh wow, I have no clue what you should do” “How would I know? Looks like you’re stuck”

  • Things you want to hear: “I went through something similar, here’s what worked for me” “I wonder if you could try doing this…” “If we break it down to smaller steps, I think you can start by…”

  • Why you need this person: When experiencing a stressful situation, our own ability to be creative and resourceful can decrease. Talking to someone else can help realize alternative solutions.

  • Useful tip: The most useful advice is offered after the person has a full understanding of your situation, which includes hearing what you’ve already tried or considered and why previous attempts haven’t worked out. Only then, will they be able to offer suggestions that you haven’t tried yet, leading to a less frustrating experience for you both.

 

Helpful Things to Remember

  • Often people have the desire to be helpful but not always the ability. In order to qualify as a support, one must be both willing and able to offer that support. Recognizing and accepting this fact can prevent a lot of frustration and disappointment.

  • Getting the wrong type of support can feel rejecting and upsetting. For example your brother may be terrible at offering emotional support but don’t discount the practical support he can provide. Realizing that he’s the person you can count on to review your resume will therefore be far more useful than expecting him to have something helpful to say after going through a major breakup.

  • In addition to close friends and family, don’t forget about the support from the professionals. A therapist, a financial advisor, an interior designer, or even an uber driver can all offer valuable support!

  • People can learn new skills all the time. Before you assume that someone can’t offer a particular type of support just because they haven’t in the past, take the time to talk to them about it. It’s possible that they’ve been trying to be supportive but don’t yet know the right way to support you as an individual. For example, some people find it helpful to be reminded of the silver lining in a bad situation while others find it discounts their experience. Learn specifically what you need in each type of support and try to teach others how they can help you best.

Magical Unicorns 🦄

There are some people in our lives who are able to offer all five types of support. If you have such a person in your life, consider yourself lucky! I call these the magical unicorns. While it’s great to have a unicorn or two, it’s even better when we have multiple people in each category. Why is that? Sometimes the unicorn is unavailable. Other times the unicorn may also be going through a rough time (midterms, the birth of a child, or a life transition such as moving is a perfect examples of this) or maybe you’re in an argument with the unicorn and right now he or she is the last person you want to have help you. For these reasons it’s always beneficial to have multiple people in each category.

Simply put it’s best to not have all your eggs in one basket (or depend on only one magical unicorn). 

At no point is this strategy more important than when you are going through an especially difficult time. When facing an increase in stress or personal crisis we tend to need even more social support than usual. By having multiple people in each category who can help you, you’ll be able to avoid feeling like you are being a burden to one specific person.

This fear of burdening a friend or family member is often one of the biggest hurdles we have that keeps us from asking for help. By remembering that you have multiple supports you can prevent feeling like you’re overwhelming one person.

How to ask for support

  1. Figure out what type of support you need
  2. Refer to your list of people who can offer that type of support
  3. Consider the specific situation and who might be most useful/helpful from that group
  4. If you don’t have anyone in that category, consider reaching out to a professional
  5. When talking to the person, first check if they are able to offer support right now
  6. Then, communicate clearly what type of support you need (see helpful phrases to use when asking for support)
  7. Remember to thank the person. We all like to know when we’ve helped!

Concrete Examples

  • “I’ve had an awful day, are you feeling up to hearing me vent for a bit?”

  • “I don’t need any advice right now, just someone to listen to me and tell me they understand, can you do that for me? (Or) I’m really needing some advice right now, what do you think I should do?”

  • “I have something I really need to talk about (Or) I really don’t feel like talking right now, can we just hang out and talk about something else?”

  • “I just need a shoulder to cry on right now.”

  • “I feel like giving up, can you please remind me why I wanted to try this?”

  • “Something upsetting happened to me earlier today and I need someone to reassure me that I’m doing the right thing. Can you do that for me?”

  • “I’m needing a break, let’s plan something fun to do tonight!”

  • “It would mean a lot to me if you could ________ (teach me that new recipe/take my dog out for a walk/watch me rehearse my presentation/drive me to my doctor’s appointment)”

  • “I feel stuck, I’ve tried these three things but now I’m not sure what else I could try. Any suggestions would be really appreciated.”

 

If you feel stuck, or need additional support in practicing asking for help, our therapists can be of support in navigating difficult situations.

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