Support System

Brain Injury Blog

Support System

by Janelle Breese Biagioni

We often need the support and loyalty of our family and friends.  This holds true, perhaps even more so, when an individual and their family endures an injury, illness, death or other life transition.

A key element in healing physically, emotionally and even spiritually is that we need to activate a support system.  Our personal network of support includes friends, family, extended family, co-workers and acquaintances. They rally around us to offer their company, food, help, and good wishes when we need it.

We would like to believe family and friends will be there for us – forever!  It doesn’t always work out that way. I also haven’t met one person who wanted their family and friends to remain in the supporting role.  They looked forward to the day when they could just be friends again – hang around together, go to the movies, or out for a meal.

Take a moment to reflect on your own life or someone else’s.  Have you experienced your circle of support becoming smaller?  Or have you been pulled away from participating in a friend’s circle of support due to your own commitments?  It’s tough on either side of the coin. Nonetheless, the reality is that when an individual’s support system falls away it is an additional loss and it can be devastating.  Having said that, it is never too late to turn things around and either re-enter someone’s support system or enlarge your own.

The following suggestions are a few things to consider when supporting an individual or family member or when you are person who has required or requires support:

Those in a Supporting Role

  1. If you are re-entering someone’s support system, have an open and honest conversation about the time that has spanned from when you last saw them.  Be sure to listen to their feelings and to express your own.  Use “I” messages, such as “I have not seen you for a long time and I have been feeling terrible about it.” It’s even okay to admit, “I just didn’t know how to help, or what to do for you.” The key is to accept responsibility for your actions and to assure the other person it wasn’t something they did.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up because you had to leave someone’s support system.  Life is hard enough without piling on the guilt, which only makes you feel worse.  Perhaps leaving was the right thing for you to do in your life at that time.  That’s okay.  Now things have changed and you feel you can be of support again.
  3. Are you needed as a support person or do you need to be needed as a support person?  Perhaps the situation has changed and you no longer are needed for support.  Could you return to the relationship as an equal peer?  If so, great! If not, then you should probably spend some time reflecting on the reasons behind your decision.
  4. Respect that while your life has changed, the life of the person you were supporting has also changed.  They may or may not accept you back into their circle of support.  Again, don’t beat yourself up about this.  Life is fluid and ever changing.  Find acceptance for their decision and move on with your life.  Most importantly, forgive yourself and them, and learn from the experience.

Those Requiring Support 

Forgive those who have moved out of your life.  There is probably a multitude of reasons why it happened and they may or may not have anything to do with you.  Holding on to any resentment over the situation will only do you more harm.  Accept that life is ever changing and there may be an opportunity to invite that person back into your life.  Know that it is okay if you choose not to invite them in again – it is your decision – just be sure you are saying no for the right reasons.

  1. Surround yourself with others who have similar interests and similar experiences.  Not only will you bring balance into your life by having someone to share new experiences with, but you will likely become a support for one another.
  2. Understand that someone can support you for even a brief period in your life.  Not everyone needs to be a long-life friend – it’s nice if it works out that way, but it’s not necessary.
  3. Are there individuals in your support system that you could encourage to move from a supporting role to a non-supporting role?  This is a great opportunity to learn from one another.  It doesn’t mean that they cannot be a support to you in the future.
  4. Remember – it’s a given that those who are supporting you will have situations arise in their life which requires some support.  Be on the lookout for opportunities to switch your roles.  Even the smallest gesture is a gift.
  5. Keep an open door and an open mind – invite your friends and extended family to introduce you to their friends.  Join clubs, talk to the elderly lady working in her garden, say hello to your neighbours and smile, smile, smile.  There is nothing more inviting than a happy person!

August  29, 2011

3 responses to “Support System”

  1. Janet Cromer says:

    Janelle, this is such an elegant summary of a complicated issue for all involved.When my husband and I needed support, I had to learn to let go of my expectations of certain family members I thought “should” help us, and open up instead to new friends in the BI community. I’ve also had experience being the inconsiderate friend who didn’t keep in touch with a pal going through a rough time.The longer I stayed away, the harder it was to get back in touch. I learned to set aside my guilt and pick up the phone to ask if we could reconnect.

  2. Marilyn Lash says:

    It’s too easy to become angry or hold a grudge when someone moves out of life. Everyone’s needs and situation changes over time – whether or not you have a brain injury and whether or not you are a caregiver. Thanks for this very thoughtful look at making choices about how and when we choose to be part of a circle of support.

  3. Marie G. Cooney says:

    Thanks, Janelle.

    I always enjoy your blogs. I have been on both sides of this equation. I don’t think most people realize how much the life of a person with a TBI changes after an injury. I “lost” most of my coworkers, sailing friends, and former church community. My relationship with family members changed terribly for a long time., especially since they live so far away and I really could not communicate very well the reality of my changed life. I also didn’t know how to ask for help or realize how much I needed it for a long time.

    Reinventing and reclaiming a new life is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I really appreciate those who have accepted my help and those who have helped me. It is especially hard to be someone who goes from being the giver to someone who needs help. Some relationships, as you mentioned, had to end. Some could be reclaimed. Others could not.

    One thing I’d like to say to others is, “Please don’t humiliate someone for needing public assistance if you have never been there.” I did NOT choose to have a TBI, need Social Security Disability, Medicare, and other services. I donated to food shelters and other communities. I never dreamed I would need emergency help to pay my rent, get food from a shelter, or other needs. My life changed forever in one split second. Treating people who need help with distain only adds insult to injury.

    Please don’t treat people with disabilities as second class citizens. We are simply people whose lives have changed. Some has been terrible. But a lot gets better in time.


    Marie G. Cooney
    TBI survivor, writer, playwright

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