We all know what it is like to be in different types of relationships. Some relationships are positive and some are less helpful. As a peer supporter, who is trying to support recovery, the ability to develop positive relationships is crucial. As we learned in session four positive peer relationships are based on mutuality and empowerment. The first step in this process is establishing a connection.
One of the great things about peer support is that people generally connect easily to others with whom they have a shared experience. It’s a wonderful moment when you’ve been feeling like the only one, and you finally meet someone else who has been there. This bond or affiliation is quite powerful, and people relate well to someone whom they think understands or gets it.
Sometimes, though, things don’t necessarily go as smoothly and it might be harder to connect.
As a peer supporter you need to know yourself before you can develop an awareness of who the other person is and how you might best connect with them. There are three important starting points when you are trying to make a connection:
- be open, interested and curious
- be authentic
- be self-aware.
When you are developing a peer relationship, you need to treat the person and their experiences with seriousness and curiosity. You demonstrate being open and interested through what you say and how you behave.
Being authentic means being genuine and true to yourself and living your life according to your sense of who you are rather than being swayed by external pressures or expectations. The opposite occurs in relationships where you mould yourself into being what the other person wants you to be or what you perceive you should be for that particular situation. This sort of authenticity is underpinned by self-awareness.
Being self-aware means being conscious of our biases, impressions and judgements, as well as what we’re feeling. This relates to what we learned earlier about worldview. For example, as a peer supporter you might meet someone who looks a bit ragged and unkempt and you might say to yourself, ‘This poor person must be homeless. I’ll see what I can do for him.’
Already you have an agenda for the person. You have formed assumptions about his or her situation, and instead of being open and interested, you’re making assumptions.
Entering into a peer relationship in this way can make it very hard to go on and establish genuine mutuality. This is because you have placed yourself in the position of helper rather than peer. You have not set out with the intention of shared learning, mutual respect and curiosity. The most important thing about self-awareness is that it gives you a chance to look at your assumptions without acting on them. You could say to yourself, ‘I know I’ve done this before and been totally wrong.’ This simple realisation can offer a fresh start. You come in with the choice to be open and interested and to learn.
When you start to really practise self-awareness, you allow your authentic self to emerge. You are no longer hiding behind a role or a particular agenda.
Thinking about the difference between a helper type relationship and an empowering peer relationship can be helpful. The following table describes some of the characteristics of each.