We all have experienced a time when someone we love is going through something that we either can or can’t relate to.
Breakups, death, financial stress, or major bad news can cause turmoil for people we care about. Usually, when going through something difficult, the only thing that will fix it is time, and support from people you love. But, how does one be emotionally supportive?
For most of us, misguided attempts at advising people on the situation or trying to cheer them up can seem like we’re being supportive. Sometimes however we’re actually harming the rapport and trust we have with our loved ones. It can be tricky, so I have created a few tips on how to correctly be supportive without seeming to be unsympathetic.
Sometimes in our attempts of ‘cheering’ people up we can say the wrong thing, or we say things that don’t come out as ‘supportive.’ Sometimes it will actually come off judgmental or unsympathetic.
So here are a few ways to deal with heavy conversations when someone has turned to you for the support that they need.
Put your phone away when you are providing emotional support. You want your loved one to know that you are listening, and you are interested in the conversation going on. Try not to have a loud crowd around you, and try to be in a setting where you are both comfortable. It’s important to make eye contact, and your full attention on the other person.
The best thing you can do is be present at the moment. Get rid of all distractions, act interested, and ask open-ended questions to get the details and clarification.
Most of the time, the best way to provide emotional support is just listening. Don’t interrupt the conversation, ask questions when there’s a pause, and really just let them vent. The best way for some people to work through difficult situations is just to have someone they feel like they can depend on to listen to them without interruption or judgment.
Try not to minimize things. Oftentimes people say things like, “it could be worse” or “at least..” in an attempt to make the situation seem better. If you ever have experienced this, you know that it doesn’t help, or even make anyone feel better. In fact, it could actually create a hesitation to confide in you again because you seem unsympathetic, or like you don’t care.
As an outsider looking into a situation, it’s easy to see the faults in how the other person handled a situation, or maybe you’d have reacted differently to certain circumstances. However, if you want to know how to be supportive emotionally, avoid this kind of thinking. You are an ear, or maybe a confidence that this person is looking to for guidance or comfort.
Most times, the person going through a difficult situation has already berated themselves for their mistakes. Your job isn’t to make them feel worse, it’s to provide comfort and emotional support. This is one of the hardest things to do, as people. But you don’t want to say something that will make you come off as someone that can’t listen or be confided in.
And when the opportunity comes up, suggestions are better than opinions. Try to keep your response unbiased and as neutral as possible.
Our first instinct when someone we care about is going through a hard circumstance is to try and give advice. Oftentimes, this is not what your loved one needs, or even wants. Generally, the best way to support the one you love is to make sure that before giving advice, you are asked for it. And then it’s better not to hand out advice but rather gently guide them through thinking out their own solution.
A common trend in humans is to ignore the advice given to them and to do things their own way regardless. And perhaps the advice you give about how you handled a particular situation may not work for their situation. Emotional support is more about being actively understanding, and practicing your listening skills than giving advice, and even a therapist avoids handing out solutions to their patient's problems.
When asked for your advice, it’s better to avoid flat-out statements of action. Instead of things like: ”You should leave him” to your friend going through relationship trouble, you can say something like: “Well, do the pros of the relationships outweigh the cons?” Or “Do you think your relationship is worth the pain you are going through?”
Conclusions made by the person going through the situation that requires support will more likely be followed through than ideas handed out by a third party. Not only that, but ‘advice’ provided with good intentions may even make things worse for your friend, and then they have someone else to blame for their scenario when they may need to take responsibility for themselves.
Sometimes all a person needs to feel better is someone validating their feelings or thoughts. They want to make sure they aren’t crazy, that other people understand, and that they are on their side. A little empathy can go a long way, and make a difference for someone who just wants someone to tell them that they are perfectly within reason for being upset.
Encouragement is also a strong foundation for providing emotional support. For someone with a lot of stress in life, validation and encouragement, and positive feedback helps lift a person’s spirits during times of mental and emotional distress.
If the person you’re in a relationship with suffers from insecurity, or a friend suffers from a negative self-image, then publicly praising them to other people could help them recover from the wounds that caused these feelings. When introducing them to new people, a genuine compliment can soothe anxieties, and may even be a conversation starter to break the ice.
Whether it be from traumas as a child or an ex-partner cheated on them, some people just need more support emotionally, and reassurance that they are important and you love them. These individuals are easily soothed by simple gestures that say they are not a disappointment to be around.
While it’s nice to hear the words that show support, one thing that is overlooked are the small little actions that make the stressful and overwhelming moments seem less terrible. If your wife is overworked and tired, take the time to do the dishes or vacuum the house for her, if your husband is having a hard time at work, then make him his favorite dinner for him.
These are just examples of some gestures you can do for the person you love going through a hard time in their lives, but the gesture in truth can be anything from flowers to helping them around the house. Oftentimes, actions speak much louder than words. Reaching out to them also is a good way to show you truly care about their situation.
Physical contact doesn’t have to be sexual. Sometimes a hug, holding a hand, or even just snuggling on the couch quietly is enough. When talk is cheap in terms of comfort -during particularly stressful times, having close contact with another person is more soothing to a hurting heart than anything.
Even though it’s best not to have an opinion, and try as you might to avoid giving advice, there is always that instance when your honest answer is asked for. As someone they trust, when that time is given it is always best to be straightforward and completely honest. If you feel like the truth is going to hurt them, break it to them gently if you can.
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While telling someone what they want to hear to feel better, sometimes that’s just a temporary band-aid to a situation. Remember you are speaking as their lover, friend, or family member, and they have trusted you with their feelings and made themselves vulnerable to you. It’s in their best interest to know the truth about the situation, even if it could hurt their feelings.
The best feeling is knowing you’re not alone, and someone cares about your situation. When providing emotional support, make sure your reach out and check in with the one who is going through a hard time. You can say things like: “How are you doing after our talk the other day?” or “I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you, if you ever need anything let me know.”
A kind word of support or affection can turn someone’s whole attitude around.
If you haven’t been as supportive of the one you love recently, really think about it. You can even bring it up in a conversation, addressing your concern about it. Apologize, and sometimes that can make all the difference in a relationship.
For a lot of people, if they feel like their partner hasn’t shown the support they should have, it can lead to resentment. Unfortunately, bringing up this emotional neglect is difficult, and the problem never really gets resolved. Most of the time, most people don’t even realize they aren’t being the emotional rock they thought they were, or simply don’t know how to show support.
If you are not sure if you have been supportive lately, think back on the last few months. Have you actively listened to your partner when they are trying to vent or express themselves? Have you asked them how they are really doing? Have you noticed little signs of distance or depression from them? Have they quit talking to you about their feelings or problems?
One thing that is easy to break and hard to regain is trust. Remember, if someone is confiding in you, that is their business and life they are letting you in on. It is not your job or place to tell anyone else that person’s business. If they want other people to know, they can tell them themselves. Gossiping is unbecoming, so it’s best to avoid this behavior.
In a lot of instances, the person is simply feeling unloved or unimportant, or unsupported. The answer to this is to show them and make them feel reassured that this is not the case. Sometimes the best answer to someone’s pain is simply letting your guard down, and showing them how much you care.
No two people’s situations will ever be the same… and no two people's feelings on a situation will ever be exactly the same. Avoid attempts at cheering someone up by comparing their situation to something similar or ‘worse.’ It will make them feel devalued, and like their situation is minimized.
Unless it’s a story about how you handled something similar because they asked you for that insight, don't compare their situation to your friend’s friend who went through the ‘same thing.’
Emotional support in a relationship is the act of providing support or comfort in times of duress or hardship. Emotional support can be anything from listening unbiasedly to venting off frustrations or sadness, providing physical contact when needed (like hugs, hand-holding, or even just cuddling), or helping someone talk through their issues.
To show your support, you can ask open-ended questions, say things of sympathetic or empathetic nature, avoid judgment or advice-giving. Being emotionally supportive involves a lot of active listening, and allowing the other person to express their feelings uninterrupted.
The hardest part about being supportive is learning how to avoid putting your opinion into the other person’s situation, and above all else, do not minimize their feelings to whatever the situation is. Not everyone is the same, and oftentimes attempts at cheering someone up by minimizing or dulling their reaction, experience, or feelings will cause this person to avoid looking to you for support in the future.
A good way to emotionally reconnect with someone is to bring up the elephant in the room: admit that you’ve grown distant, and talk about it. See what went wrong, how you can fix it, apologize for your part in the gap. Usually, people are eager to rekindle a strong connection they had with someone they trusted if it’s faded away, so as hard or weird as it may be: just talk to them about it.
In essence, men need the same kind of support that women do. They probably need it less often, but it’s still vital that you show the kind of emotional support and love that he needs. Listen to him, take his needs into consideration, think of his needs before acting selfishly, acknowledge him, help him if he needs help, and occasionally, get dressed up sexy just for him.
Some people do ‘feelings’ better than others. Tell us in the comments, are you comfortable when someone leans on you for emotional support? Or does it make you cringe and look for the closest exit? We hope you enjoyed the article, and don’t forget to share it with your friends!
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