Define Emotional Support

This page will Define Emotional Support.

Developing close, healthy relationships is one of the best things we can do for our emotional well-being.

Let’s be honest, though.  It can be hard.  Often times it seems like good friendships are supposed to just happen naturally, but in reality, it takes work. 

However, with a little effort, you can start to build and deepen meaningful relationships with others which define emotional support.  This will enable you to have what you need to live a joyful, fulfilling life.

How do we Define Emotional Support?

The ability to show empathy, compassion, and genuine concern for another person is how we would define Emotional Support. 

Emotional support is born out of real, authentic relationships with other people.  In healthy friendships and relationships, it is a two-way street; both people in the relationship give and receive emotional support freely. 

Emotional support is a vital component of a healthy relationship and indicates that a relationship is deeper and more meaningful than a casual acquaintance.  True, meaningful relationships are characterized by mutual and unconditional emotional support.

Why is Emotional Support Important?

One of our most basic needs as human beings is real, authentic, meaningful connections with other people.  Studies have shown that people with healthy friendships and relationships have greater emotional well-being, live healthier lives, and even have longer life expectancies!

How do I know If I'm Being Emotionally Supported?

We would define an emotionally supportive relationship as one where you feel unconditionally accepted and cared for. 

You feel as if the other person is concerned for your well-being. 

They care if you are upset, scared, worried, or happy. 

An emotionally supportinve relationship is defined by the safe sharing of personal feelings and concerns honestly and openly, and a lack of a feeling of being judged by the other person. 

When you are emotionally supported, you feel less alone.  You feel like your friend is coming alongside you in difficult moments to help you through them.

How Can I Emotionally Support My Friends?

Since relationships are a two-way street, providing emotional support to your friends is very important.  If a friend has been supportive of you, you must do it in return in order to maintain the relationship.  If you are just beginning to cultivate or deepen a friendship, showing genuine support and concern to the other person will help that process along.

There are two critical components that would define emotional support:  being a good listener and respecting others’ feelings. 

Be a good listener. In order to strengthen relationships, people must feel that they are genuinely important to you.  One of the clearest ways you can send this message to them and show them that you are emotionally supportive is to demonstrate good listening skills.

It sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it?  But in reality, “listening skills” go far beyond just using your sense of hearing.  You can show that you are a good listener by being actively engaged in what they are telling you.  You can use the following techniques to send the message to someone that you truly care about what they have to say and that you are a good listener – and a good friend.

  • Give them all of your attention.  Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and don’t give your attention to any other distractions.

  • Look at them.  Even though you know you are listening when you’re looking in another direction, your friend might feel like you aren’t paying attention if you aren’t looking directly at them.

  • Get close to the person.  Sit or stand close to your friend when they’re talking.  Give them a little space so they are comfortable, but your close physical presence sends the message that you are there, and that you care.

  • Let them speak without interruption.  It’s hard to see our friends in distress, and you might have an idea or encouraging word to help in a difficult situation.  But your first job is to listen.  In order for your friend to feel supported, they need to know that their whole story is being heard.

  • Speak with your body language.  Nod your head as your friend is talking to signal that you are hearing them.  Make sure your facial expression demonstrates concern and not anger, frustration, or confusion.

  • Use encouraging words and a gentle tone when it is your time to speak.  Comments such as “That sounds really difficult,” or “I’m sorry you’re going through such a hard time” might seem overly simple, but they send a powerful, supportive message to your friend.

  • Always validate their feelings.  Even if you don’t agree with your friend’s feelings, you need to validate them.  Never say “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “Just move on.”  Their feelings might be different than yours, but they are very real and painful to your friend.  Honor them.

  • Give advice only if asked.  You might have a fantastic solution to your friend’s problem – but depending on where they are emotionally, they might not be in a place to hear it.  Your first job is to listen.  Your second job is to give advice, if they ask you.

Respect the feelings of others. After you have demonstrated genuine care and concern for another person through good listening skills, you need to take it one step further by respecting their feelings.  Even in the closest of friendships and relationships we are still unique individuals – and just because we care for each other doesn’t mean we always agree.  Use the following techniques to respect others’ feelings in relationships.

  • Never tell them that their feelings are wrong.  A feeling is an experience that is different for every person, and even if you might react differently to a situation, it doesn’t mean that someone else’s feelings are wrong.  They are just that – different.

  • Always use “I” statements in conversation.Instead of using language like “you should,” choose phrases like “If I were in that situation, I would…”  You don’t want to sound like you are giving orders, but rather sharing gentle advice that your friend can choose to take (or not).

  • Separate your feelings for your friend from your feelings about their opinions. If you find yourself having a strong emotional reaction to your friend’s thoughts, take a deep breath to calm yourself down and remember that we are all allowed to have our own opinions and feelings.  You aren’t friends with opinions, you’re friends with a person!  In order to preserve the relationship you need to respect that everyone is different.

  • Discuss differences in a calm and respectful manner.  You won’t always agree, but one of the most important characteristics of an emotionally healthy relationship is honesty.  If you have differences with your friend, you don’t need to pretend that they don’t exist.  However, when you talk about them you should choose respectful words and speak in a calm tone.

What If I Am Just Beginning?

If you are entering into a new relationship with someone, they must first trust you before they will feel comfortable opening up emotionally. 

But before you can build trust you will need to build rapport. 

One of the best ways to build rapport is to show genuine interest in a person – ask questions about what they like, what they don’t like, what they do in their spare time, what they are passionate about. 

Exercise your listening skills to show that you are truly interested.  You should also demonstrate to them that you are reliable and dependable.  Keep your word and show up at events you commit to. 

Reach out to your friend to show them you are interested in cultivating the friendship. 

And be patient with the pace of the friendship – some develop more quickly than others. 

Respect their comfort level with the depth of your relationship as it grows, and don’t try to push them beyond where they are comfortable.

How is Giving and Receiving Emotional Support defined?

Sometimes it can feel very uncomfortable to develop a close, emotionally supportive relationship with another person.  It makes us feel vulnerable and that can seem strange, embarrassing, scary, or just plain hard.  For people who may have been hurt emotionally in the past, or closed themselves off to protect themselves, the idea of opening up – and either giving or receiving emotional support – can be terrifying.

But even while it’s terrifying, it’s also incredibly attractive. A life defined by a lack of emotional support might mean we risk less hurt from others, but it can also mean that we find ourselves incredibly lonely.  That struggle is a very common one – deeply longing for close, supportive relationships but feeling too scared of getting hurt to cultivate them.

If that sounds like you, I have good news for you.

If you struggle with developing healthy, emotionally supportive relationships there is a lot of help available.  Working with a psychotherapist can help you identify the reasons why relationships are difficult for you, discover the barriers you have to developing close, healthy relationships, and work with you through the process of overcoming them.

Against everything our culture says, developing meaningful, emotionally supportive relationships doesn’t just happen

Rather, it’s a practice makes perfect kind of effort.  If you work at it and are intentional about it, casual acquaintances can grow into great friendships.  And even if you struggle with being able to develop them yourself, professional help is available – and effective – to help you overcome your personal barriers and develop the healthy, meaningful relationships you’ve been looking for.

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