If you’re anything like me, the summer months signal a much-needed reprieve from school-related activities. Near the middle of April, all I can think about is how wonderful it will be to trade my class google calendar for a consistent work schedule, and I look forward to lazy summer nights spent with family and friends. Although students are mostly off-campus for the summer, scattered around the US doing all kinds of exciting things, I’ve been thinking a lot about our MTU community and the different circumstances people face over the summer related to their living situations. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about those living in or navigating unsupportive environments and how isolating and challenging that can be.
Perhaps you feel that you are struggling to navigate an unsupportive environment right now, or you know you will have to in the future. Maybe you are a friend working to help someone else navigate their unsupportive environment. Maybe the people you are currently living with do not affirm your identity, maybe they struggle to show love or empathy, maybe your home is politically divided and tense, or maybe the people you live with are unable to see past their own problems and therefore struggle to see the good things in you. While being mindful that every situation is different and has its own unique set of challenges, I hope this post offers some encouragement and visibility.
- Acknowledge and Accept That Your Environment Isn’t Your Ideal
I love talking about resilience. For this post, let’s suppose that resilience is simply defined as the ability to withstand and recover from difficulties. One component of lasting resilience is that of radical acceptance. I like how HopeWay explains radical acceptance, so I’ll give you their definition.
“Radical acceptance is NOT approval, but rather completely and totally accepting your mind, body and spirit that we cannot currently change the present facts, even if we do not like them. By choosing to radically accept the things that are out of our control, we prevent ourselves from becoming stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, and sadness and we can stop suffering.”
So, suppose you’re currently navigating an unsupportive environment. I think the first significant step is to recognize your situation for what it is and then accept that for right now, despite the discomfort around you, you will not allow the living situation to overshadow the progress you’ve made.
Of course, if your environment is unsafe, posing a present danger to you or others, or is causing you to consider dangerous behaviors, you should seek help. Please refer to the resources page at the end of this post for more specific information.
- Practice Self-Care
In my opinion, self-care is so crucial for everyone in their everyday life. However, self-care becomes essential when a person has to live in an unsupportive environment or without a strong support network because suddenly, you are your own greatest advocate. Moving back to hometowns without college friends and resources can be really tough. So, even though breaks are often restful, they can also be quite unsteadying.
If you feel any of this, I challenge you to show up for yourself. This might look like going to the gym, going on a walk, making a new recipe, starting a new hobby, or building a routine for yourself. Be selfish with your time when you need to be, and find ways to cultivate joy. Self-care will look different for everyone, but at the end of the day, it is how we show love to ourselves, and it’s one of the easiest ways to develop balance and connection when the other parts of our life feel disconnected.
- Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is a majorly important life skill. Setting boundaries is how we communicate what we need and tell other people how we are comfortable getting what we need. When living in an unsupportive environment or with a small support system, setting boundaries can be complex because of the dynamics of the environment. However, boundaries are worth pursuing because they are how we will be able to cultivate peace and balance within the dynamics of the group.
When setting boundaries, consider your needs and then consider the group. It is well within your rights to look out for your needs. However, also consider compromise. For example, if family mealtimes are difficult for you but are important to your parent(s), you might consider trying to reach a compromise where you only attend one or two a week instead of all seven.
- Pick Your Battles
In the past, I have found that I am easily angered when I perceive someone as disrespecting me or my boundaries. My mind always runs through familiar phrases like, “why would they do that?” and “don’t they know that this makes me feel disrespected?” However, unsupportive people do unsupportive things, and that’s just an unfortunate fact in life. No matter how hard we try, arguing and blaming the unsupportive people in our life will only cause US harm because it promotes a cycle of bitterness.
Here’s another challenge from me to you. Evaluate your “battles.” Then, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Is it worth the energy to engage in the fight that this person is trying to start?
- Is it helpful in the long term to hold on to bitterness or blow up at this person who inevitably will not see a problem with their behavior?
- Is the change I want realistic, given the attitudes of the people involved?
Sometimes the answer to all of these questions will be no, and that’s just the way
it is. Think of radical acceptance again.
- Find Safe and Supportive Spaces
Finding safe, supportive, and allied spaces is another essential piece to surviving unsupportive environments. A sense of community and belonging goes a long way toward promoting personal resilience. Sometimes these spaces can look like a hometown friend group, a counselor-patient relationship, in-person or online support groups, discord servers, or extended families like grandparents or cousins. A safe space could also be less about the people and more about the environment. For example, anything that offers relief, like spending time in your favorite room in the house or reading a book, can also count as a safe space.
Another note is that sometimes the perfect safe space won’t exist. Maybe you’ll only be able to find a safer and more supportive space than the previous one. That’s okay. Don’t discount the value of a safer space simply because it doesn’t check all of your boxes. Also, be careful that your safe space is actually safe. Just because the people in that space agree with you always doesn’t mean that they always act within your best interests. If the safe space makes you bitter or promotes an unhealthy us-versus-them mentality, it might be time to reevaluate if that space is actually safe and has a positive influence on your well-being.
In closing, I want to remind you that if your situation has become unsafe or poses a danger to you or someone you know, we are not advocating for you to simply accept the environment for what it is. We encourage you to reach out for help! Please refer to the resources listed below for more information about crisis lines and confidential support. We miss you Huskies, and we hope you have a wonderful summer!
The quote that appeared in the text above was taken from the page connected to this link.
Confidential, short-term, solution-focused counseling and resources. Free to all MTU students and accessible all year round. Download the app and follow the prompts!
Text START to 678678 or call 1-866-488-7386. This resource is specifically geared towards those who identify or are allied with the LGBTQ+ community.
Crisis Text Line
Text START to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) for nationwide peer-support services. This is not a crisis line but it does provide information, resource referrals, and community support for those who have a mental illness or live with someone who has a mental illness.