Mental Challenges

This Fun Visual Exercise Will Help You Identify Your ‘People’ and Set Much-Needed Boundaries

Photo: Getty Imags/Hello World
The last few years have been characterized by a great deal of loneliness. A recent survey conducted by Harvard found that 36 percent of respondents reported feelings of "serious" loneliness. And while there’s now quick fix for feelings of isolation, there is a psychologist-approved balm that can remind you just how loved (and not alone) you truly are: ecomaps.

An ecomap is really more like a social support chart, according to relationship psychotherapist Elizabeth Fedrick, LPC "An eco map is a tool used to create a visual representation of your social supports, connections, and primary relationships, as well as to identify the strengths and areas of need for each of these connections," she says. 

When our entire social ecosystem only exists in our heads or in our phones, it's hard to picture the magnitude of the circle around us. "It is also valuable to see where you could benefit from setting boundaries in relationships or possibly decreasing the amount of output and energy you are providing to others," says Fedrick.

When you know who your "people" are, you can also show up for them in more intentional, symbiotic ways. Maybe you're writing a friend's name on your ecomap and you think, "Wow, I haven't caught up with So and So in a while." In that respect, the map can help you reach out to fraying connections, and reinforce them.

Last, but certainly not least, your ecomap may show you that you're missing allies in certain areas of life. Maybe, for example, you notice that you're lacking close work colleagues and that inspires you to connect more with them one-on-one. Or maybe you notice that you don't have any workout friends—so you decide to join a jogging club.

There's also a fair chance that your ecomap will benefit you in some unique, TBD way. So whether you're usually an arts and crafts kind of person or not, it's worth a shot. Below, Fedrick explains how to make a simple ecomap to guide you through deepening your relationships.

Here's how to complete your ecomap, step by step

Before you get started, remember: You don't have to build your entire ecomap in one day (insert Rome truism here). "If the idea of creating an entire one feels overwhelming, it would be beneficial to start with the basics and then add to it over time," says Fedrick. "It would be highly beneficial to start with general information and then expand it slowly."

Take your time, and try to put your perfectionism aside for now.

Step 1: Draw a large circle in the middle of your paper

Hint: This circle is you! Put your name (or just write "me") in the middle of the circle.

Step 2: Draw smaller circles around your "me" circle

"Start adding additional circles around the middle circle that represent each relationship or social connection you have," says Fedrick. "Ask yourself some of the questions provided to start identifying active connections in your life." You can even brainstorm before you start filling out your ecomap by listing out all the folks you know.

Step 3: Identify your energy flows

Next, it's time to think about the inter-workings of these relationships. How is the energy flowing between the folks around you? What boundaries are in place?

You can even try creating your own system. "It is helpful to use an identification system to create a visual of these relationships. For example, a thicker line means a close/intimate relationship, a curvy line means a conflictual relationship, an arrow pointing towards the circle of who is receiving the support, arrows pointing both ways indicate a reciprocal relationship, etcetera," says Fedrick.

Let this process be creative.

Step 4: Interpret your map

"Once you complete as much as you can on the map, you will then use it to analyze ways to make better use of the supports available, create a 'toolbox' of available supports, identify ways to set boundaries where needed, determine if additional supports are needed, and so on," Fedrick says.

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