An ecomap is really more like a graph of social support, according to relationship psychotherapist Elizabeth Fedrick, LPC. “An ecological map is a tool used to create a visual representation of your primary social supports, connections and relationships, as well as to identify the strengths and areas of need for each of these connections,” he says.
When our entire social ecosystem only exists in our heads or on our phones, it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the circle that surrounds us. “It’s also valuable to see where you might benefit from setting boundaries in relationships or possibly decreasing the amount of output and energy you provide to others,” says Fedrick.
When you know who your “personas” are, you can also introduce yourself to them in more intentional and symbiotic ways. Maybe you’re writing a friend’s name on your ecomap and thinking, “Wow, I haven’t caught up with So-and-So in a while.” In that sense, the map can help you reach the worn connections and reinforce them.
Last but not least, your ecomap can show you that you lack allies in certain areas of life. Perhaps, for example, you notice that you are missing close co-workers and that inspires you to connect more with them one on one. Or maybe you realize you don’t have friends to work out with, so you decide to join a jogging club.
There’s also a good chance your ecomap will benefit you in some unique way, TBD. So whether you’re an arts and crafts person or not, it’s worth a try. Below, Fedrick explains how to make a simple ecomap to guide you through deepening your relationships.
Here we show you how to complete your ecomap, step by step
Before you start, remember: you don’t have to build your entire ecomap in one day (insert Rome truism here). “If the idea of creating a whole one seems overwhelming, it would be beneficial to start with the basics and then add to it over time,” says Fedrick. “It would be very beneficial to start with general information and then slowly expand it.”
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 center circle that represent each relationship or social connection you have,” says Fedrick. “Ask yourself some of the questions provided to begin identifying active connections in your life.” You can even brainstorm prior to you start to fill in your ecomap by listing all the people you know.
Step 3: Identify your energy flows
Next, it’s time to think about the interworkings of these relationships. How does energy flow between the people around you? What limits exist?
You can even try creating your own system. “It is helpful to use an identification system to create a picture of these relationships. For example, a thicker line means a close/intimate relationship, a curved line means a troubled relationship, an arrow pointing to the circle of who is supported , arrows pointing both ways indicate a reciprocal relationship, and so on,” says Fedrick.
Let this process be creative.
Step 4: Interpret your map
“Once you fill in as much as you can on the map, you’ll use it to analyze ways to make better use of available supports, create a ‘toolbox’ of available supports, identify ways to set boundaries where needed, determine if there are more supports needed, and so on,” says Fedrick.
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