Read through this scenario, and the possible responses given, then answer the questions at the end.
Neil and Marie have been working together for several months. Neil has seen Marie make great progress. Now Marie is talking about getting her own flat and living independently (she has lived in supported accommodation all of her adult life). Neil thinks this is too big a step as Marie doesn’t know how to cook, is careless with cigarettes and is terrible with her finances. Also, several years ago Neil moved straight from supported accommodations to living independently and it was a disaster. He lost his housing, found himself on the street, and even started using drugs again. Marie tells Neil that she is really excited about getting her own flat and has even got as far as deciding how she wants to decorate it.
Neil tells Marie that he is happy for her but expresses concern about what seems to be a big step for her. He tells her that in the past he had moved from supported accommodation straight to his own flat and that it had not worked out for him and that he is worried that this will happen to her.
Neil tells Marie he is really happy for her and remembers the feeling of really wanting your own place. He asks her what she thinks the difference between living in group supported accommodation and her own flat will be.
- What are the different perspectives on risk in this scenario?
- How was Neil controlling the situation in both responses?
- How do you think Marie will respond to Neil’s different responses?
- How do you think things will develop from each response?
Looking at this scenario, consider the extent to which our instinct
to protect or to ‘fix’ things is a result of our fears. While this is a fairly straightforward scenario there can be times when fear becomes
overwhelming. This is the time to think back through the basic skills of peer support. Acting out of fear can lead to poor decision-making and disempowerment.
In thinking about how peer supporters can overcome this desire to protect, consider the following:
Be aware and attentive
Being self-aware is simply noticing what you are currently feeling, focusing your attention, and knowing the assumptions and attitudes that you bring to a conversation. Being attentive to others means being open and interested in what they’re communicating, both verbally and non-verbally. When we’re self-aware and paying attention to someone else, we can begin to share in their experience without our assumptions getting in the way.
Sit with your emotions
It can be scary to be with someone who is working through strong feelings. We tend to want to fix things, calm people down or fill in all the blank spaces when they are silent. Sometimes just sitting with people without doing anything is the greatest gift we can give. Learning to tolerate a range of feelings (both our own and others’) strengthens our emotional muscles. It shows us that we can live through feelings which can be frightening, and learn what they are trying to teach us.
Ask questions in a kind and compassionate way
Llistening carefully and asking questions in a compassionate way will help you to learn how the other person has made sense of their particular experience. This can help bring out important similarities and differences in the relationship.
Be honest and respectful
Being honest is sometimes the hardest thing. We are afraid of hurting people’s feelings or getting into trouble. But while remaining silent can avoid hurt feelings in the short term, it probably won’t work in the long term, and it can lead to misunderstandings. So, even when we have something difficult to say, it’s better to say it because others usually sense when something isn’t right and we are holding back.
Your habitual responses can become ingrained and hard to change, and can also help you feel safe because you feel comfortable with them. You need to take time to build relationships and a connection within the peer support relationship. If you are impatient and challenge someone, you can then disconnect from each other and it will take time to rebuild that trust and connection. Your role is to encourage people to come to their own conclusions at their own pace.