Eco-Mapping: Find where you can receive the support you need
The passing of your spouse turned your world upside down.
Grief, changes, uncertainty: When you face new challenges, you need a lot of support. It could be a listening ear, financial help, someone to watch your child while you are working, or guidance for navigating widowhood. Just like you are not the same person you used to be in the pre-lost era, how you relate to people around you and your community is changing. Your once good friends may feel distant from you while new relationships emerge. Examining your current relationships and acknowledging the support you receive (or lack of it) will help you cope with your new reality and move forward.
What is an eco-map?
An eco-map is a diagram that shows a person’s important relationships with people, groups, and organizations. It is the tool social workers and psychotherapists use to identify resources and obstacles for their clients.
From star maps to the GPS, human beings have used a variety of maps to reach their destinations since ancient times. You can use your eco-map to navigate your way to a more peaceful, joyful, and fulfilled life.
Benefits of an eco-map
We are multisensory learners. Learning through visual and hands-on activities enhances our understanding and leads to more discovery. Creating and contemplating your eco-map will help you explore your social environment and find ways to improve the quality of your life.
Your eco-map will show the followings:
People, groups, and organizations that support, benefit, nurture, or empower you. They are the resources that promote your healing and growth.
People, groups, and organizations that discourage, hurt, oppose, or undermine you. They are the obstacles that block you from attaining more joy and peace.
Your level of social connectedness and the quality of your connections.
Areas of service duplication or abundance.
Areas of disconnection or isolation.
Potentials for new resources.
The above eco-map gives an overview of my relationships shortly after the passing of my husband. It shows the strong support from my best friends, son, mentor, and neighbor. I benefited most from my friendship with a fellow widow who became my soul sister. She was the one I could call whenever I got overwhelmed by grief. I also developed a very nurturing friendship with a man in my spiritual community. He took on a brother role and witnessed (and still does) all my sorrow and joy. My mentor, who lost her husband ten years before, shared her wisdom and walked me through the most challenging time of my life. My neighbor, whom I became close to after losing my husband, kindly helped me take care of my home and ensured my safety while I lived alone. My friends in four countries also supported me with their love and compassion.
Some relationships—once sources of valuable emotional support—slowly diminished. My therapist was receding to the background as I increasingly turned to my mentor for guidance. I was also walking away from my spiritual community. I didn’t seek emotional support from my family in Japan either. My parents were occupied with their own challenges, such as aging and deteriorating health. The death of my husband didn’t change the rocky relationship between my sister and me.
My relationship with my son was complicated. He was a college freshman when his father passed away. A death in our family drew us closer than ever. I openly shared my grief with him and thought we were mutually helping each other heal. But my son later revealed that it was hard to listen to my pain while struggling with his own grief, keeping up with his study, and coping with a new social environment. He felt I was using him to satisfy my emotional needs. Sharing grief with a child or adolescent is beneficial only if the parent stays in the supporter/provider/protector role and doesn’t confuse it with friendship. If I had the wisdom I have now, I could have caught my emotional dependency on my nineteen-year-old child. I would also have invited my son to make an eco-map to examine his support network and explore ways to strengthen it.
How to make your eco-map
You will need:
a white poster board or large sheet of paper
pencil and eraser
pen or marker
coloring materials (optional).
Draw a circle in the center of the paper. Write your name inside.
Draw circles around yours to represent the people, groups, and organizations that interact with and influence you. Don’t forget to include virtual communities that emotionally support you (such as MWC and Facebook groups) and professionals that provide helpful services, such as a daycare provider for your child, house cleaner, and financial advisor.
Express the quality of your connection with each social element using the lines below:
_________ a solid or thick line for strong, important, supportive, or positive connection
- — — — — a broken line for a weak connection
/\/\/\/\/\/\/ a zigzag line for stressful relationship
→→→→→ arrows for direction or flow of energy, influence, or resources.
You can make your eco-map more visually striking to express your relations better and have fun doing it.
Vary the size of circles to show different levels of influence. For example, you can draw a bigger circle for your helpful mentor and a smaller circle for your distant family member who might know an organization that could provide you with a resource.
Color-code the lines to represent the nature of connections (e.g., red for conflict, green for nurturing)
Modify the lines or add different ones to express your relationships more clearly.
Use different shapes, motifs, and colors to represent the elements of your social connections. You could draw a bright yellow star for your supporter whom you look up to or gray clouds for people who don’t believe in your potential.
Reflect on your eco-map
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
How do you feel about your eco-map?
What does your eco-map tell you about your support system? Does it satisfy your needs?
What resources are you currently receiving or do you need?
What do you need to do to maintain your current support level?
How can you increase your resources? Who or what organizations can you approach?
Which relationships are stressful or not effective?
Are there any elements that have the potential to become your obstacles?
What can you do to improve your relationships?
How can you positively affect the direction or energy flow between you and your social elements?
Are there any other discoveries?
. . .
Eco-mapping lets us see our relationships from a panoramic view. I learned and benefited from it, and so did the people I helped. A good map is a reliable and necessary travel companion. Try eco-mapping if you lack support or want to find a better way to navigate your widowhood.