Do You Hit the Renew Button or Replay?

How support groups can facilitate growth…or keep you stuck Human beings are social creatures. We need to support one another and we need support. Barack Obama is right when he says we need to work together. Businesses are failing. People are losing jobs and even homes. There is a lot of pain out there. However, mutual support is a double-edged sword. Getting support can lead to renewal, but it can also get you even more stuck. Or both.

Bob and Jim (fictitious names) both lost their jobs in the forestry sector. A government agency had organized a series of information meetings for unemployed workers. When Bob and Jim started going, they met other unemployed workers who had been attending for a while.

It wasn’t long before both had picked up some good ideas for getting back to work. And by being with other recently laid-off workers, both had shed some of their feelings of failure. Besides being practical, the meetings provided needed emotional support.

After a couple of meetings, Bob stopped going and put his energy into trying some of the back-to-work ideas he had gained. He felt relieved, because the majority of the ex-workers were pessimistic about finding work and the negativity was getting him down.

Jim, on the other hand loved the get-togethers. He reveled in the mutual support because they all had the same wound: being unemployed. He did not look for other work, because, after all, "There were no jobs.”

Six months later, Bob was working in a different field and Jim was still going to his "support group.” Bob had pressed the RENEW button and Jim was still pressing REPLAY. This is an example of the same support group serving both functions. In any community, there are ongoing groups with a variety of themes. Some are positive and renewing of spirit. A dance class, a choir, a woodworking group and a gardening club are good examples. Others may be positive in the short term, but in the long term can serve to keep you stuck and powerless, as did Jim’s unemployed forestry workers group.

Go to a grief group if you have suffered a loss, but keep asking yourself the question, "Is this speeding up my healing so I can move on?” If you find yourself not moving on, press the RENEW button by trying something else, like volunteering at the SPCA, joining a hiking group or seeing a therapist. How do you tell if a group is likely to be of the RENEW variety or the REPLAY variety? First, notice whether the group is organized around an activity. If it is, and the activity is something you would like to try, go for it. Learning and trying new things is renewing and adds meaning to life.

On the other hand, if the group theme is a wound rather than an activity, be cautious. You may gain excellent information by joining a support group that dwells on what’s wrong, but it can become a trap after you get the initial knowledge. If you attend a couple of meetings and discover that they not only dwell on the wound, but also hold it to be progressive and incurable, how could that help you to live a fulfilling life in spite of your condition?

If you wanted to find a good therapist because you had lost your job, had an addiction problem or you were feeling powerless, you would look for one who could help you, in as few sessions as possible, get to a place where you didn’t need him anymore. I encourage you to do the same thing in seeking a support group. Find one that will help you to not need it anymore. Then press RENEW and move on to activity-based support.

Dr. Neill Neill is a registered psychologist in Qualicum Beach. He helps capable people who feel stuck… trauma, relationships, addictions.