How to be there for someone emotionally
Emotional Support: Definition, Examples, and Theories
Emotional Support: Definition, Examples, and Theories
By Zamfira Parincu, BA, Researcher
What is emotional support and why you might want to learn how to give and receive emotional support? Discover how to build an emotional support system here.
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Many comedy shows depict emotional support as a group of friends hanging out together and chatting. In Friends, they were usually at their favorite coffee place. In The Big Bang Theory, they were sitting on a couch in their apartment.
What Is Emotional Support? (A Definition)
Emotional support is an intentional verbal and nonverbal way to show care and affection for one another. By providing emotional support to another person, you offer them reassurance, acceptance, encouragement, and caring, making them feel valued and important (Burleson, 2003).
Receiving emotional support helps us cope with daily problems, stress, disappointments, or pain and makes us feel happier and more resourceful to deal with the troubles of life (Atoum & Al-Shobul, 2018).
When you’re happy, you can share your joys with others. When you’re sad, you can have a shoulder to cry on. Despite the nature of our feelings or whatever happens in our lives, it is reassuring to know that we have people we can count on.
Caring for someone and loving them is not the same thing. We need to learn how to show our love and support so that they can genuinely feel it. To learn this, check out the video below:
What Are the Benefits of Emotional Support?
Emotional support is a crucial part of any healthy relationship, and receiving it makes us feel valued and important. Decades of research has shown that having emotional support in your life has many benefits, including mental health and physical health (Taylor, 2011). Here are some more of these benefits:
There are countless studies that highlight the positive effects of emotional support in our lives. However, nothing compares to actually seeing how critical and even life-saving emotional support can be. Battling stage III cancer, Matthew Lopez’s mom would say before and after chemo, “I’m here because you’re here.”
You can watch his emotional and inspiring story that became a popular TEDx video below:
Video: Social Support as Cancer Therapy
Is Emotional Support the Same as Social Support?
Not exactly. Social support, a key characteristic of social relationships, is an umbrella term that encompasses four different types of support, including emotional support.
All types of support are important for our well-being. However, they play different roles in our lives. Sometimes, you need to have a loving conversation with your close friend about how you have been feeling recently, while sometimes you need to problem-solve with a coach to explore strategies that might make yourself feel better.
You can watch the video below from Khan Academy if you’d like to hear more examples of the different types of social support:
Video: Social Support
How to Emotionally Support Someone
Emotional support can take many shapes and sizes. It is important to understand not only what type of emotional support you can offer but also what type of emotional support the other person wants or needs to receive.
For example, your partner might come home from work very stressed and want to recharge. While he would like to tell you all about his stressful day, you would like to show your emotional support by hugging or kissing instead of listening. So, what should you do?
Although research shows the various benefits of receiving support, it also shows the importance of giving support. Studies have shown that providing support reduces the effect of disability and mortality (Gruenewald et al., 2007) and has a positive effect on blood pressure (Piferi & Lawler, 2006).
Interestingly, those who give more support also get more support. This might happen because people feel better after helping others which improves their health, or because they are in a quality relationship in which they can reciprocate the positive behaviors and feelings (Reblin & Uchino, 2008)
Emotional Support Questionnaires and Scales
Receiving emotional support is an important part of every relationship, whether with your partner, family, or friends, with many benefits for your mental and physical health.
How to Build an Emotional Support System
Now that you read all about the positive benefits of emotional support, you may wonder how to build a system that works for you.
As the saying goes, it does take a village. It is important to keep in mind that it might take time, but, in the end, the rewards are worth it.
Articles Related to Emotional Support
Want to learn more about how to build emotionally supportive relationships? Here are some more articles to read.
Books Related to Emotional Support
Want to keep learning about emotional support? Check out these books:
Final Thoughts on Emotional Support
Emotional support is an extremely important and beneficial part of high-quality relationships. It can even improve our mental and physical health. So, it’s worth the time to learn how to give and receive emotional support.
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13 Tips, Tools, and Strategies
Support comes in many forms.
You might offer physical support to someone having trouble standing or walking, or financial support to a loved one in a tight spot.
Other kinds of support are important, too. People in your life like family members, friends, and even close co-workers, can help lift you up emotionally by offering social and emotional support.
People show emotional support for others by offering genuine encouragement, reassurance, and compassion. This might include things like verbal expressions of sympathy or physical gestures of affection.
Emotional support can come from other sources, too — religious or spiritual sources, community activities, or even your pets. Whatever form it takes, this support can improve anyone’s outlook and general wellness.
Some people have a knack for being emotionally supportive, but this skill doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
You can develop these skills, though, with a little practice. Keep reading for 13 tips on providing quality emotional support to anyone in your life.
When you want to provide emotional support to someone you care about, asking a few questions is a great place to start.
“How can I support you?” can sometimes work, but it’s not always the best approach.
While good intentions lie behind questions like these, they sometimes fail to have the impact you desire.
People don’t always know what they want or need, especially in the middle of a difficult situation. So, this question can be so broad it leaves someone unsure how to reply.
Instead, try asking questions tailored to a situation or the person’s state of mind, such as:
- “You seem a little upset today. Would you like to talk about it?”
- “I know your boss was giving you a tough time. How have you been holding up?”
If you know someone has faced some challenges and aren’t sure how to open a conversation, try starting with some general questions, such as, “What’s been happening in your life lately?”
Try to keep your questions open-ended instead of asking questions that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” This invites an explanation and helps keep the discussion going.
It’s not enough to simply ask questions. Listening actively, or empathically, is another important part of providing emotional support.
When you really listen to someone, you give them your full attention. Show interest in their words by:
- displaying open body language, like turning your body toward them, relaxing your face, or keeping your arms and legs uncrossed
- avoiding distractions, like playing with your phone or thinking about other things you need to do
- nodding along with their words or making noises of agreement instead of interrupting
- asking for clarification when you don’t understand something
- summarizing what they’ve said to show you have a good grasp of the situation
Using good listening skills shows others you care about what they’re going through. For someone who’s struggling, knowing that someone else has heard their pain can make a big difference.
Think about the last time you went through something difficult. You probably wanted to talk to someone about the problem, but you may not have necessarily wanted them to fix it for you or make it go away.
Maybe you just wanted to vent your frustration or disappointment and get some soothing acknowledgment in return.
Support doesn’t require you to fully understand a problem or provide a solution. Often, it involves nothing more than validation.
When you validate someone, you’re letting them know you see and understand their perspective.
The support people often want most is recognition of their distress. So, when a loved one tells you about the challenges they’re going through, they may not need you to jump in and help. You might offer the best support simply by showing concern and offering a caring presence.
Some validating phrases you can use are:
- “I’m sorry you’re dealing with that situation. It sounds so painful.”
- “That sounds so upsetting. I understand why you’re feeling so stressed right now.”
Nobody likes feeling judged. Someone facing a difficult situation as a result of their actions may have done some self-judgment already.
Regardless, when seeking support, people generally don’t want to hear a critique — even if you offer constructive criticism with the best of intentions.
When offering support, try to keep your opinions on what they should have done or where they went wrong to yourself.
Avoid asking questions they might interpret as blaming or judgmental, such as, “So what made them so mad at you?”
Even if you don’t offer any direct judgment or criticism, tone can convey a lot of emotion, so your voice might share emotions you didn’t intend to say outright.
Take care to keep notes of disapproval out of your voice by focusing on feelings like sympathy and compassion when you speak.
You might think you’re helping someone by telling them how to fix a problem. But, generally speaking, people don’t want advice unless they request it.
Even when you know you have the right solution, don’t offer it unless they specifically ask something like, “What do you think I should do?” or “Do you know of anything that might help?”
If they’ve moved from “venting” to “talking through the problem,” a better approach often involves using reflective questions to help them find solutions on their own.
You might, for example, say something like:
- “Have you been in a situation like this before? What helped then?”
- “Can you think of any specific changes that might help you feel better?”
When you want to support someone, don’t worry too much about whether you’re providing the “right” kind of support.
Two different people typically won’t offer support in exactly the same way. That’s OK, though, since there are plenty of ways to support someone.
Your approach might also vary depending on the person you want to support.
Instead of searching for the perfect thing to say, go for what feels natural and genuine. An authentic expression of concern will likely mean far more to your loved one than a canned response or one devoid of true feeling.
Times of personal difficulty, especially ones involving rejection, can bring people down and make them doubt themselves and their abilities.
If you notice someone you care for seems to be a little low, harder on themselves than usual, or going through some self-doubt, a sincere compliment or two can go a long way toward improving their outlook.
When offering compliments, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:
- Keep them relevant to the current situation. For example, you might remind a friend who’s upset about a mistake at work about their usual pattern of success.
- Choose compliments that highlight specific strengths over empty compliments that might apply to anyone. Instead of simply saying “You’re so thoughtful,” pinpoint what makes them thoughtful and share your appreciation for that skill.
- Don’t gush. A well-placed compliment can make someone feel great. Overdoing it can make people skeptical of the compliments, or even a little uncomfortable (even when you do really mean them).
When a close friend or romantic partner believes they’ve found an answer to their problem, you might have some doubts about the effectiveness of that solution.
Unless their approach involves some risk or danger, it’s generally best to offer support instead of pointing out the flaws in their plan.
They may not have chosen the approach you would, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Even if you can’t see their solution working out, you can’t know how things will turn out with certainty.
Avoid telling them what you think they should do, since this can sometimes undo any positive feelings from support you’ve already offered.
If they ask what you think, you could offer some gentle guidance that might help their plan succeed. Even if they ask for your honest opinion, avoid responding with harsh or negative criticism or tearing their plan apart.
Physical affection isn’t appropriate in all situations, of course.
Depending on your relationship with the person you want to support, hugs, kisses, and other intimate touches and caresses can often have a powerful impact.
- After a difficult conversation, giving someone a hug can provide physical support that reinforces the emotional support you just offered.
- Holding a loved one’s hand while they go through a painful procedure, receive unpleasant news, or deal with a distressing phone call can help them feel stronger.
- Cuddling with your partner after they’ve had a bad day can wordlessly emphasize your feelings for them and offer healing comfort.
People face all kinds of unpleasant situations in life. Some of these challenges have a much broader or far-reaching impact than others.
It’s not for anyone else to say how upset someone should (or shouldn’t) feel about any given type of distress.
Comparing a loved one’s difficulties with problems faced by other people often happens inadvertently, as an attempt at consolation.
You might intend to cheer them up by saying things like, “It could be a lot worse,” or “At least you still have a job.” This denies their experience and often implies they shouldn’t feel bad in the first place.
No matter how trivial you think someone’s concern is, avoid brushing it off.
Sure, maybe the lecture your best friend received from her boss wouldn’t have bothered you. But you can’t fully understand her experience or emotional response, so it’s not fair to minimize her feelings.
A loved one trying to manage emotional turmoil may have less mental capacity for dealing with their usual responsibilities.
After you’ve listened and validated their feelings, you can also show compassion by helping lighten their burden, if at all possible.
You don’t have to do anything grand or sweeping. In fact, little things can often have more impact, especially when your actions show you truly heard and understood their words.
Try one of these small kindnesses:
- Do one of your partner’s household chores, like dishes or vacuuming.
- Pick up lunch or dinner for a friend having a rough day.
- Bring flowers or a favorite beverage or snack to a sibling going through a nasty breakup.
- Offer to run an errand for a stressed friend or parent.
Some difficult situations have no solution. You can listen to your loved one’s pain and offer your shoulder (physically and emotionally) for support.
But when time is the only means of fixing their problem, you might both feel a little helpless.
You can still offer support, though. Someone facing a tough situation might struggle to focus on other things.
They might want to distract themselves from stress and worry but not know where to begin.
You, on the other hand, probably have enough distance from the problem that you can come up with a few ideas to take their mind off their troubles.
Aim for a fun, low-key activity you can reschedule if they don’t feel up to it. You usually can’t go wrong with something you know they enjoy, like a walk along a favorite nature trail or trip to the dog park.
If you can’t get out, try a craft, household project, or game instead.
Once you’ve helped a loved one explore a difficult situation, don’t just drop the matter completely.
Revisiting the topic in a few days lets them know their troubles matter to you even though you don’t have any active involvement.
A simple, “Hey, I just wanted to see how you were coping after the other day. I know it can take some time to heal from a breakup, so I want you to know I’m here if you feel like talking again.”
They may not want to talk about their distress all the time — that’s totally normal. You don’t need to bring it up every day, but it’s perfectly all right to ask how things are going and let them know you care.
If they’ve asked for advice and you have a potential solution, you can introduce it by saying, “You know, I was thinking about your situation, and I came up with something that might help. Would you be interested in hearing about it?”
Emotional support isn’t tangible. You can’t see it or hold it in your hands and you may not notice its impact right away, especially if you’re struggling.
But it can remind you that others love you, value you, and have your back.
When you offer emotional support to others, you’re telling them they aren’t alone. Over time, this message may have even more of a positive impact on mental health than temporary mood-boosters or forms of support.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
Just such a strong love: healthy feelings or addiction?
Urgent need to be needed by another person. Addiction does not bring pleasure from the opportunity to be with someone together, help or support, but, on the contrary, causes suffering when there is no such opportunity.
Previously, in psychology, there was an opinion that a dependent relationship is when one person in a couple supports in one way or another the dependence of the other (from alcohol and illegal substances to gambling), mental illness, irresponsibility and other unhealthy patterns of behavior of the other partner. Now, when they say that someone is in a dependent or co-dependent relationship, they mean that a person is very afraid of losing a partner, overly relying on his support and approval. The components of such an addiction can be difficult to live with, but nevertheless it is not the same as “dependent personality disorder”, in which people feel completely helpless without the support of other people. nine0003
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Most of us are in dependent relationships to one degree or another. We all rely on loved ones, we are waiting for support, we want to tell our partner how the day went, and so on. The difference between painful addiction is the feeling of one's own inferiority when separated from a partner. In this case, the relationship ceases to bring satisfaction and serve as a constant source of anxiety. Such feelings are a signal that the relationship needs to be worked on. nine0003
To deal with an addiction in a relationship, the first step is to identify the symptoms.
© Obsession, 2004
- Desire to please
You constantly think about what else to do to make your partner feel good, so that he sees what a wonderful person you are. Does he have some problem? You immediately undertake to solve it. You think that your partner appreciates you precisely because you are always there and will be able to resolve any of his difficulties, despite personal inconveniences and risks. You don't care about yourself and are willing to renounce anything to show you care. It sounds like a perfect romantic concept, but in practice, after all this, you feel empty or even exhausted. This is a natural reaction of the body, since, acting out of a desire to prove our “necessity”, we experience great stress. In a healthy relationship, there are other motives that allow you to act without such emotions (and often more effectively). nine0003
- Belief that if you make a mistake, you will be abandoned
You are constantly trying, working on yourself, trying to do everything perfectly. You believe that if you make a mistake, act stupidly, then your partner will definitely leave you, because he will not be able to stay with "such a person." You think that only you are responsible for the relationship and should try not to lose it.
- Difficulty making decisions on your own
If you ask yourself how you feel or what you want, it will be difficult for you to answer. You are often not sure what decision is better to make, whether to buy some thing or not, what is the best thing to do in a given situation, so you constantly ask your partner, check with his opinion. You want him to show you how to do it.
- Conflict avoidance
You'd better keep silent than complain. Why say something is wrong? After all, there will be a conflict, so you think it’s better to give in and not say what you want. It is difficult for you to express your feelings, experiences and dissatisfaction. nine0003
- Desire to be with a partner all the time
You want to be with your partner all the time, spend as much time with him as possible. You have already forgotten the last time you met with friends on your own or when you went somewhere. You do not rest from each other at all and almost do not spend time apart.
- Breakups cause undue pain
Parting with a partner is a serious grief for you. Just thinking about it makes you step over yourself and go against your principles. You are literally ready to do anything to save the relationship. nine0003
- Desire to control everything
Since the most important thing is not to lose relationships, everything can be used, including total control. You are driven by the desire to constantly know where the partner is, with whom he is, what he is doing, what he is talking about, what he is thinking about. You need to be aware of everything in order to be able to influence the situation.
The biggest difficulty in dependent relationships is that most often they deny the real state of affairs, and the partner and the situation are idealized. “We don’t have any addiction, I just love him very much.” It is very difficult to admit that there is some heavy component in such an expensive relationship. nine0003
© Obsession 2004
Our perception of ourselves is formed through the reflection of us by our parents. When a three-year-old girl spins in front of a mirror and hears: “You are so beautiful,” then she will know that she is beautiful. When she hears: “You are so kind, you helped the girl find the doll,” she will know that she is kind. Collecting such assessments of parents in our internal piggy bank, we create an image of ourselves. And if we did not hear positive comments from parents or, on the contrary, received a lot of negative ones, then we begin to urgently need to hear such assessments from the outside. It becomes necessary for us to constantly hear how good, valuable, important and so on we are in order to feel ourselves as such. Compliments are great, but it’s bad when it’s hard for us to feel good without them. nine0003
- Child injury
Some severe childhood traumas, an early break in relations with an important person, for example, the father left the family and stopped communicating with the child, could have influenced the formation of a tendency to dependency relationships.
If the parents do not respect the personal boundaries of the child, then, turning into an adult, he may be inclined to fall into a dependent relationship. When parents enter the room without asking, take things, get into the phone or personal diary with checks - this blurs the boundaries of the child, he gets used to this attitude and either tries to act in this way in adulthood, or expects the same from a partner. nine0003
© «Obsession», 2004
If there is a lot of passion, emotions, strong affection in a relationship and everything suits you, why can it be bad?
- Emotional exhaustion
Dependent relationships can lead to emotional exhaustion, as they involve great sacrifice, constant concessions and actions contrary to oneself. Not caring for yourself in favor of caring for others also leads to exhaustion.
- Not quite my life
If you think about others more than about yourself, keep silent about your needs and desires, do not pay attention to their realization, try all the time to be not quite yourself, but to correspond to the ideal image, then life becomes as if not quite your own.
- You can be used
Research shows that most cases of psychological or physical abuse by one partner against another occur precisely in dependent relationships. nine0003
© "Obsession", 2004
Such symptoms, of course, can manifest themselves not only in romantic relationships, but also in any other. The problem solving steps that we offer are suitable for working on relationships of any format.
- Start by identifying your strengths. Their understanding will give great support in the process of working on yourself and relationships. For example, people who try to please others often have a highly developed ability to understand others, their desires and experiences. This can be used to enrich communication with other people. nine0020
- Analyze your symptoms of addiction. Think about what you think are signs of a healthy relationship. What is important to you in such a relationship? How could moving into such a relationship enrich your life? Answering these questions will help you increase your motivation to work hard on yourself and relationships.
- Learn to give yourself positive feedback and support. It's very difficult. Try to celebrate your victories, even the smallest ones. Praise yourself for them, even if it seems silly at first: constant repetition can help you become less dependent on other people's evaluations. nine0020
- Think about what you do for yourself. Write a list of ways you can take care of yourself, make yourself happy. Maybe you have long wanted to go somewhere or try some new activity? Please yourself. Remember what brings you pleasure, what you like to do. Make time for your wants and needs. Try to do at least one thing for yourself every day.
- Work on personal boundaries. Think about when you feel uncomfortable with your partner. When he raises his voice or speaks in a rude way, do you remain silent, but do you feel bad? So there must be a boundary here. How do you usually react to its violation? Think about what new rules you need to establish in order to feel better next time in such a situation. Do you want your partner to take a break before going into another room, or to apologize for being rude? Tell him about your thoughts. nine0020
- Psychotherapy is best suited for working with addictive relationships, as it helps to track what is in the blind spot and get out of denial of problems. Most people in addictive relationships don't realize that they can do things to increase the addiction. The psychologist helps clients try new behavioral strategies to turn the tide and improve the quality of the relationship.
- If alcohol, drugs, gambling and the like are involved in your relationship, then it is better to turn to special programs for working with addictions, for example, 12 steps. In difficult situations, it can be very important to see other people with similar problems in order to understand that you are not alone, to be inspired and to fight together. nine0020
In any case, working on dependent relationships first leads to an uncomfortable and difficult state, since it is very difficult to break such a familiar and comfortable order of things. But in the end, relief always comes, and life becomes better, since healthy relationships are a source of a sense of harmony, fulfillment and happiness.
5 effective tips on how to deal with difficult people
Contents of the article
Almost anyone can find a common language with a nice person, when common topics are immediately found, the conversation becomes interesting and exciting. But how often do we come across such people?! Sometimes you have to establish communication with difficult people at work, in everyday life, and not everyone can cope with this. This skill can be useful for you to complete tasks and solve various problems. Let's take a look at 5 working methods that will help you cope with even the most difficult personalities. nine0003
Being calm will help you hide your emotions and prevent another person from influencing you. Most conflicters deliberately behave in such a way as to piss off a person and begin to sort things out with him. Here it is important not to succumb to tricks, take a couple of breaths, relieve internal tension and calmly continue the dialogue. When a difficult person feels that you are confident and not going to defend yourself, then he will lose the desire to behave in this way. nine0003
Empathize with the interlocutor
Often difficult people behave defiantly because they are overwhelmed with pain that eats from the inside. In such a situation, a person needs sympathy, not abuse and punishment. Therefore, try to put yourself in the place of your interlocutor, feel what the person feels, and pay attention to him.
Conscious communication is when you can disengage negative emotions by remaining calm, reasonable, and direct throughout the conversation. This is the ability to conduct a constructive conversation, not paying attention to sarcasm or irony. For example, to interrupt the endless stream of thoughts, ask directly "what do you end up offering?". Or, to discourage the interlocutor and dispel anger, answer that perhaps the interlocutor is right. Do not use categorical words like “always”, “never”, “impossible” in communication. You will find even more useful recommendations in the course “Building Relationships the Right Way”. After training, you will be able to build good relationships not only with colleagues at work, but also with your team, family and children. nine0003
Stop the conversation if it has gone too far
If you behaved confidently and consciously, sympathized with the person, but the conversation is still accompanied by negativity. So it's time to stop it. This can be done using the following phrases:
- “Are you sure that your proposal is the only correct one?”
- "Do you think I don't understand what you are trying to do now?"
- “After listening to all your reproaches and complaints, I understand that you talked too much about this.