How to Give Emotional Support

Last week I was thinking about how to give emotional support. It came about because that is outside of my remit in my work and it seems to me that there is very little emotional support available unless we have friends or family who offer it to us. There are, of course, many people with no real support from family or friends and professional support is difficult to find.

It got me thinking about how we are best able to offer emotional support to each other. I guess that as with many other relational situations, we begin by listening without interrupting. It can be tempting to stop someone mid-flow if they are clearly emotionally upset, but taking the time to let them express what they really feel is always worthwhile.

Ultimately, however, if they begin to bring up endless other grievances from the past and lose track of the present situation, it might be possible to gently lead them back to the current problem.

If the person is unable to express their feelings in words, then asking a few questions might help them – but be sparing.

Don’t judge; that will only cause the person to close up and may make them even more angry or upset. We never know the full situation and cannot be the judge of theirs. Neither is it helpful to tell them that we’ve been in the same situation and so know how they feel, because they need to feel that this situation is about them, not us. If you have been in the same situation, try to remember how it felt at the time and act accordingly without telling them how you felt.

Don’t minimize the problem. If someone is distressed, it is important – even if it doesn’t seem it to us.
Don’t suggest that it will all be alright in the long term unless you absolutely know that it will. False comfort is no comfort at all.

Try to be objective
– it is one of the things that we are unable to do for ourselves when we are emotionally upset or distressed. That way, we will be able to help the other person to work out how best to deal with the situation.

Finally – this is not the time to try to get the person to see the funny side of things. They may well be able to at a later date, but joking about the situation while the other person is emotionally upset tells them that we are not taking them seriously.