Monday, 29 December 2014

My Relationship Map

This is a tool I use in a course I run at our Church. It is used in the final session of five as a way to enable people to start to think about how much they are part of a community already. Some of you may be familiar with other relationship 'maps' such as the ripple effect with 'Me' at the centre and the people in my life in circles rippling outward depending on how close I feel to them. I have adapted that idea, along with the practicals of location to help people to identify where their nurturing relationships are as opposed to where their 'emotional blackholes' are ie the people who suck the emotional life out of them. It is a simple principle - how close are those who nurture me, geographically? Am I too close geographically to those who drain me? Does the location of those closest to me emotionally prevent me from building stronger relationships? etc.

When I use this tool I do not ask the members of the group to divulge any details of their relationships - it is designed as a tool to help someone to consider small changes they may want to make to their social lives to either manage damaging relationships or to encourage nurturing ones. It is a starting point and the only group discussion required is in general terms about practicalities of making and keeping contact with people who are important to us.


1) Take a sheet of A4 paper and divide it in two (landscape seems to work best) I tend to draw a line along the middle, some people fold the paper in half and make the fold the central line.

2) The central line represents ME, write this in the middle of the page.

3) On the left hand side of the line put the title EMOTION, on the right hand side, put the title LOCATION.

4) Now plot relationships along the left side of the line - the closer a person is to me emotionally, the closer to the central line I plot them. eg I am reasonably close to my University flat mate due to the length of time we have known one another. She has lived through most of my traumas without having rejected me or just let the friendship drop due to distance and time, so she is placed close to the ME line.

5) Once I have plotted relationships according to emotional closeness I then plot the right hand side of the line according to where they are in relation to me geographically eg my flat mate lives in a different part of the UK so is fairly distant from me geographically, so although she may be close to the central line on the emotion side I put her towards the extreme right hand edge of the page.

I plot as many friendships and relationships as I am able to, but focus on those who are important to me in terms of their impact on my life - for good or ill. Again, in the group I encourage people to use initial letters of names to avoid over sharing. The tool is most effective when left for individuals to reflect quietly on what they discover about their relationship networks.

It is not meant to be complicated, it is as simple as that. The important part of the exercise is in asking key questions about my relationships and how effective (or otherwise) they may be.

Some questions I have asked myself and the groups, are:

a) Is there any imbalance in the number of nurturing versus draining relationships in my life?

b) Are the people I am closest to near to me in terms of location ie am I able to encourage contact with these people easily?

c) Is there a lack of relationships that I consider close? What do I think has caused this? Are there any steps that I feel I am able to take to build new/renewed friendships that do not trigger negative emotions in me?

d) If I can't identify any close/nurturing relationships are there any relationships that I have identified as more distant that could become closer if I plan to build them?

e) Are there any relationships that are crossing boundaries and/or may be 'too close, too soon'? Do I need to put emotional distance into any of these relationships.

The questions about the map can be as challenging or easy as you want. What is important is to make a plan to change the things you may have identified that need changing. I usually give the groups I work with the homework of identifying one friend who is a positive relationship and aim to spend at least 30 mins in the following week with them doing something positive like going out for a meal or calling round for a coffee. For those recovering from mental illness, it can be a safe first step to rebuilding their confidence, socially. For those who fail to identify anyone they are close to, I encourage them to choose one person they would like to know better and do the same task of spending 30 mins in their company in the following week.

When it comes to relationships it is important to acknowledge that for most people with BPD the fear of rejection means that looking at the reality of our relationships can be extremely challenging. I do not ask people to look at all their friendships or relationships in one go. It is sometimes easier to begin with the least close emotionally first and then work towards those that are more significant as each person feels able.

One thing that repeating this exercise often has done for me is that I have been able to monitor the growth in the number and closeness of my friendships. It's lovely to be able to look back over the past three years and notice that I have been able to learn to trust people again. That's the thing, it takes time, and hard work, particularly when I fear rejection and am tempted to retreat to my previous ways of coping. What I need to keep telling myself is that, although I used to make friends easily, I often failed to sustain them long term. Now my focus is on 'building' relationships that I can rely on. Only time and steady, small contacts seem to work for me - that way I am not tempted to perform 'psychological striptease' in order to test friendships. In setting and keeping to my own boundaries, the friendships I now have are more secure and I feel less vulnerable - not least because few of my new friends know all about me and my past traumas. They just accept me as I am in the here and now.