The Support Group Groupie

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[This story re-printed here with permission from the author, Dr. Neill Neill.
Original Source: http://alcoholism.neillneill.com/52/support-group-groupie/]

Mutual support can be a double-edged sword. Joining a support group can lead to renewal, likening it to pressing the REFRESH button on life. However, a support group can also keep you stuck pressing the REPLAY button and hearing the same thing over and over. The picture of your life can get out of focus.

Human beings are social creatures. We need to support one another and we need support. Barak 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; and wherever there is pain, you will find support groups…

Bob and Jim 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 was not 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 are 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 REFRESH button and Jim was still pressing REPLAY. Jim had become a support group groupie. This is an example of the same support group serving both the REFRESH and the REPLAY 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, a book club, a motorcycling club 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 and recovery so I can move on?” Go to an AlAnon group or an AA group if it helps, but keep asking the same question you would of a grief group.

If you find yourself not moving on, press the REFRESH 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 REFRESH 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. Some groups will even resort to using guilt and shame to hold you there.

If you attend a couple of meetings and discover that they not only dwell on the wound, but also hold the wound to be progressive and incurable, how could that possibly help you to live a fulfilling life in spite of your condition? Do not press REPLAY. Run; don’t walk.

If you were looking for a good therapist because you had lost your job, were drinking too much or were feeling powerless, you would look for one who could help you in as few sessions as possible to get to a place where you did not 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 REFRESH and move on to activity-based support.

Join the resistance and refuse to ever become a support group groupie.


Psychologist Dr. Neill Neill maintains an active psychology and life-coaching practice on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.  He focuses on self growth, healthy relationships and life enhancement after addictions. He is the author of Living with a Functioning Alcoholic – A Woman’s Survival Guide. Get on his list for notification that he has posted a new article and receive his free report, “Addiction and Codependency Simplified.”


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