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Why Peer Support Works: Where Empathy and Shared Experience Uplift Others.

When individuals with shared experience come together and help uplift each other it paves the way for empowerment.

There were times in my own personal journey where I felt so hopelessly alone that I didn't know what to do for myself. I was completely crumbling under the weight of the world's expectation and not knowing what exactly was happening to me. It wasn't until I read a woman's blog post explaining her struggles and how she healed and worked through them that I even realized that was an option for me. It instilled hope in me. It showed me a way of life I never thought was possible for me. From that moment on I pushed myself to take back control over my life because if this woman did it, so could I.

Then years later I decided to create an open mic poetry night with one of my friends and the experience was something I will never forget. People from all ages came on to the mic and shared their lived experiences. One teenage girl spoke of her depression and how she couldn't leave her bed for days and the snaps roared from the crowd. An older gentlemen spoke of the troubles of war and how it lead him to insomnia and you could see the crowd nod in agreement. I would have people tell me afterwards things like:

"I've never felt so seen and heard before" and "This was the first time that I had heard someone experiencing the same things I have".

That's the power of peer support.

What does it mean to be a peer? A "peer" is an equal, someone with whom one shares demographic or social similarities. "Support" is the empathy, encouragement, and assistance peers offer one another in reciprocal relationships. (Darby Penny, 2018)

Another great example of a peer is by Sherry Mead, founder of Intentional Peer Support, "Relationships built and nurtured through shared experiences. People who have like experiences can better relate and can consequently offer more empathy and validation".

Have you ever had that "ah-ha" moment when talking to someone where they just get it? Where you want to scream and shout like "YES! EXACTLY!" after they say something you relate to or feel in your own personal journey? That is one truly special benefit of peer support, the ability to be seen and heard from someone who has walked a similar path. It is the difference between empathy, the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, and sympathy, feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.