Falling down together

Let’s talk about one of the mainstays of self-help: the support group.

On the surface, it seems like a really good idea. You go and spend time with people who can understand your issues and relate easily to your experiences and your world-view. It works well for some.

However, the supposed strengths can actually be their greatest liability. Here’s how it often plays out:

You go and spend time with a lot of people who have the same problem as you. Sure, you’ll feel welcome and have a ‘sense of belonging.’ You will also be with the only people who definitely don’t have the answers you need, as they have the same filters and the same blind spots as you.

Think about it like this: A depressed person goes and spends their time with other depressed people. They talk about their problems and maybe even socialise together. They mutually reinforce each other’s opinion that the world is a depressing place. No surprise, no change and definitely no exit.

People with a problem don’t benefit from sameness, affirmation and a sense of belonging regarding their problem. Building those things through forming ‘communities of dysfunction’ can keep them stuck because if they change somehow, they’re no longer part of their social group! Deciding between having a problem or losing all your friends is not a great set of choices, I’m sure you will agree.

Strange though it may seem at first, they instead need discomfort, counter-examples and contrast in order to change because they need to be aware that something is wrong – and life can be better in ways that they value.

The first thing to remove is the choice to be stuck. This is something that Richard Bandler demonstrates repeatedly and which is part of NLP training. Bandler often creates change by colluding with the person’s comfortable and dysfunctional ‘reality’ – and then spoiling it somehow. Do this and then you can provide solutions, knowing that they’ve burned their bridges with regard to the problem. There is no going back.

So, what would a genuinely helpful support group be like? I suggest that the majority of the participants would be role-models who demonstrate positive function. And not necessarily those who ‘used to’ have the same issue, because coping is different from change.

So put a depressed person with relaxed and positive people and watch as they model their new social environment. Becoming ‘one of the crowd’ can be a massive unconscious influence for positive change, because the best hypnotic suggestions are non-verbal ones which are consistently demonstrated.

And you can do that just by being you.

Falling down together by

3 Replies to “Falling down together”

  1. Ruth Billheimer

    Very thought-provoking! It’s nice to go against the conventional wisdom sometimes.
    I had some experience of this when I had cancer: I went on to the iVillage breast cancer forum, a fine group of brave women, don’t get me wrong. But I couldn’t do with all the cliche ideas being reinforced all the time – “we’re fighting this” “we’re on the cancer journey”. No you’re not, I wanted to say, you have a disease – get a grip! So my stay there was quite short-lived – as was the cancer, I’m pleased to say!

  2. The Barking Unicorn

    Kinda kills the Buddhist monastic community of sangha, where everyone has the same problem of suffering; and the Christian “Body of Christ,” the community which shares the problem of being sinful.

    And yes, I have noticed that if one dares claim to have actually solved the problem which binds together members of these communities, one is told not to “think you’re better than others” but to be the same as everyone else – have the problem or get out.

    Different, of course, is not always better; but better is always different. You can’t be better by being the same.

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