Being part of a community can help you make positive life changes, but only if it is a healthy community. There are key things to look for and red flags to avoid.
Characteristics of a Healthy Community:
People in the community accept you as you are. You don't need to change for them to welcome you.
People in the community genuinely care about you as an individual.
People in the community are open about the good and bad in their lives.
People in the community respect your boundaries and allow you to open up at your own pace.
Red Flags in a Community:
You feel like you have to do things you’re uncomfortable with to remain a part of the community. Pressure to change your behavior in ways that go against your conscience is unhealthy, even if the people pressuring you to seem friendly (for example, the pressure to share personal things about yourself you’re not ready to share).
People in the community demand that you spend all your free time with them or create distance between you and your other friends or family.
Members of the community heap on guilt or shame. Good communities encourage positive changes, but they don’t do this by making you feel guilt or shame. A healthy community will accept you even when things aren’t going well.
“What are your blind spots?”
A mentor of mine once asked me this. I thought it over, and when I finally came up with an answer, I realized it was a trick question. Blind spots, by definition, are things you don’t see.
If you are unable to see those blind spots — the parts of your life that could cause you to crash and burn if you don’t see them soon enough — what do you do? It’s pretty simple: You need a passenger in your life checking those spots for you.
You need input from others to grow and improve in your weak areas, your unknown-to-you areas. You need someone you can rely on to help you with the things you can’t see and the things you don’t want to share.
We all have problems we need other people to point out, but our natural instincts are to run from that kind of attention. But if you are trying to make your life better, you need a community that knows you and cares about you. You can’t fix yourself on your own.
Now be warned: This isn’t easy.
Opening up involves risk. It can be devastating when you take a risk, share something you are ashamed of and are met with rejection. But it’s transformational if you share the things you are most ashamed of and your community responds with love and support.
We all fear that if people really knew us in all our messiness, they would stop loving us. But that’s not true. It’s a lie that we’re too quick to believe.
When you are able to share all of your vulnerabilities and are loved anyway, that love is deep love. It’s not superficial.
When you share your struggles, your shame and your cares with a trusted community, it gives you the hope you need to make progress. This is why having an open, caring community is so powerful.
When you are fully accepted, it won’t make you content with your flaws. It will motivate you to do better.
Hope for change always involves risk. Knowing you are loved no matter what allows you to take the risks necessary to change. You can take these risks because you know that, even if you fail, you are loved.
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