A delicate flower blooms when the environment is right. The sun, the soil and the moisture interweave to provide the necessary nutrients for survival. When the environment provides in abundance, the flower flourishes, blooming in abundance. Our environment is also essential for our wellness. With enough nutrients, we survive. In exceptionally kind environments, we flourish. However, when nutrients and safety are lacking, we flounder. For this purpose, to achieve wellness, we need a supportive environment.
Inner and Outer Environments
Human environments are rich with people, social systems, and information. Our environments also include inner happenings. Health, emotions, thoughts also provide or borrow from life giving sustenance.
Antonio Damasio, a Professor of Psychology, Philosophy, and Neurology, at the University of Southern California, explains in his book The Strange Order of Things, “the ‘surround’ of a nervous system is extraordinarily rich… It includes the world external to the organism…that is, the objects and events in the environment surrounding the whole organism. But the ‘surround’ of the nervous system also includes the world within the organism…” (2019, location 1,179).
Behaviors, beliefs and thoughts are major contributors to the “surround” of our nervous system. The environment is supportive or draining. Our well being depends upon the conditions—a supportive environment. We are not impermeable. People and places also contribute or subtract. External environments matter.
We provide nutrients as part of the environments of others. They respond to us and we respond to them. By providing or subtracting from their wellness, we initiate and invite a reciprocal response.
We Can Compensate for Lack
We can compensate when a few critical elements are missing. However, we can’t consistently ignore the imbalance. When a person in our outer environment harshly violates our tender being, we suffer. The maltreatment draws from our strength. We can temporarily compensate for the grating external pressures with internal kindness; however, eventually energy to compensate diminishes and the abuse injures our souls.
Daniel Siegel explains the power of others. he wrote, “in our day to-day lives, the degree of social support we feel helps modulate our stress response. Holding the hand or seeing a photo of someone you love and trust can actually decrease your brain’s anticipatory anxiety, as well as its neural response to a painful shock” (2020, Kindle location 4,698). The supportive environment actual benefits the brain’s ability to function.
Science backs the benefits of social support in reducing stress. “High social support has been associated with many beneficial health outcomes, such as lower mental and physical morbidity and mortality and better adjustment to and recovery from chronic illnesses” (Kang, Boss, & Clowtis, 2016).
Conversely, supportive others in our outer world may lift our spirits, but when their goodness is filtered by our nasty inner critic their decency loses potency, leaving us unnourished and empty.
Cultivating Supportive Environments
Our positive actions contribute to the environmental nutrients by cultivating the good and distancing from the bad. Whether our environment is rich or impoverished, we can adjust, improving the conditions and harvesting more of what we need.
If our histories are sparse, missing necessary mentors to guide, we must reach a little further, opening new doors to find the support that change demands. Climbing from the valley of death to the bountiful golden fields of plenty isn’t a simple adjustment. Just as one child may drift from a genealogy of greatness, we can also prevail over a bleak heritage of lack.
See Trajectories for more on this topic
Cultivating an External Supportive Environment
The wellness dogma that outer environments don’t matter is bunk. We don’t choose every emotion. We don’t make lemonade out of abuse. Our wellness can’t thrive in emotionally deprived relationships. When surrounded by toxicity, we can’t help but to absorb the poison. We don’t naturally grow from systemic suppression. We must work to improve outer environments in community and personal levels. Community level change is stubborn, involving many resistive elements and varying needs. Yet, we can’t forget the importance of contributing to these necessary ingredients for fair and equal support. We can’t sit on the sidelines complaining, expecting others to make necessary changes.
- join groups that uplift
- limit time with people that drain energy
- Take time to do things that recharge energy
- improve relationships
“Ideally, schools should be supportive environments for students. Unfortunately, zero-tolerance policies tend to funnel vulnerable students out of schools and into prisons, low-income jobs, and poverty.”~Kimberle Williams Crenshaw
We must believe in the possibility of transformations. We don’t have to carry our parents’ burdens. The path to an unfamiliar lifestyle is often obscured by inherited limits on vision. We can’t strive for successes that we can’t envision. In psychology, we refer to this future vision of ourselves as our possible self.
We need new exposures that open possibility to developing necessary skills, and knowledge to know what actually needs to be accomplished. And equally important, we need supportive mentors to guide us through the awkward steps of change into unknown territories. For our output to change, we must attend to the input.
We must take control of our world. Accepting personal responsibility for the quality of our lives motivates action. Certainly, community level obstacles impact, but we can compensate.
We can: We can’t ignore our internal environments. We need a well functioning system to support the heavy demands of life. Self-care is essential.
- practice self-care
- challenge negative thoughts and harsh self judgements (cognitive reappraisal)
- speak with a physician about emotional disturbances
- learn mindfulness practices
You may also enjoy reading Wellness Basics
Our wellness is sensitive to surrounding environments. Desires to change behaviors while ignoring environments is a fool’s game, setting the stage for failure. Whether we are abandoning addictions or practicing healthier habits, a supportive environment is necessary. When we improve our environments, growth naturally occurs. A properly nourished life from supportive environments blooms, giving fragrant joy and flourishing confidence.
Damasio, A. (2019). The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. Vintage; Reprint edition.
Kang, D., Boss, L., & Clowtis, L. (2016). Social Support and Cognition. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 38(12), 1639-1659.
Siegel, Daniel (2020). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. The Guilford Press; Third edition.