Your Support Group

This exercise will help you to get a sense of your own support system, and to explore some ways to nurture and enlarge it.


Before reading any farther, go get yourself three pieces of paper—typing paper size would be ideal—and a pencil or pen. Draw a circle in the center of the first piece of paper—about fifty-cent-piece size. (If you have some coins handy, you might want to use them to draw the circles in this exercise.)

Inside this large circle, write your name. Now begin drawing smaller circles around the big circle. Let these circles represent your friends and family—the members of your support group.

Begin with the persons with whom you have the strongest and closest bonds—you might want to make them about quarter size—and make the other members of your social network about dime or penny size. Draw the circles and jot down names quickly, as they come. Include the people who have been sources of warmth and approval all through your life, as well as those who are supports for you now.

List the people you have warm feelings for. People you feel comfortable with. Nurturing people. People you would like to be able to talk with if you were having a hard time. Think of all the people you would feel comfortable hugging—or being hugged by. All the people you would enjoy sharing a meal with. All the people you’d enjoy receiving a letter from. Don’t worry about being ”fair” or reasonable or logical—this exercise is for you alone.

You might want to jog your memory by referring to your address book. Or thinking of places you used to live and the friends you had there. Or friends from work. Or old army buddies. Or friends from school. Or fellow members of social, political, or religious groups.

As you are listing friends’ names, you may find yourself wishing you were in closer touch with some of them. If so, list these friends’ names on the second sheet of paper. Entries on this list might include old friends you haven’t seen in a long time, or new friends you’d like to get to know better.

There may be others for whom you find yourself feeling a special affection. People for whom you would like to do something especially nice—a hug, a phone call, a letter, or a gift to let them know how important they really are to you. If such feelings come to mind, write these friends’ names down on the third sheet of paper.

When you have finished diagramming as much of your social support system as you feel like doing, take a minute to go back over each name, and remember the kinds of support you’ve exchanged with that person.

The last part of the exercise is to decide what use to make of your diagram and two lists. Is there a person on one of your lists you’d like to be in touch with or send a message to right now? Anyone on either of your lists you’d like to share this exercise with?

And what would be a good thing to do with your social support system diagram? Put it up on your bulletin board? Pull it out and review it when you’re feeling low?

In making these choices, remember that, in the light of the findings of a wide range of studies, persons with strong social support systems experience better health than those who lack strong support systems. There may be potential health benefits—for yourself and for your friends as well—in following the advice of the old Campfire Girls song:

  • Make new friends
  • but keep the old.
  • One is silver,
  • the other, gold.
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Tom Ferguson MD Written by Tom Ferguson MD

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