How to Be Emotionally Supportive

When a friend or loved one is dealing with a difficult situation, we often find ourselves not knowing what to do. Whether they are going through a breakup, grieving a loss or experiencing marital problems, it can be challenging to find a way to help them. Although there is no right or wrong way to show your support, you can be there for them in ways that demonstrate respect for their individual personality and situation.

Focus on the Person Who Needs Support

Often, people talk about their own experiences when supporting someone in an attempt to show empathy or understanding for what the other person is going through. However, doing this can make the other person feel like they're not being heard. Research by Susanne M. Jones and John G. Wirtz, published in the journal, Human Communication Research, found that individuals who received messages validating their feelings and opening up space for them to express themselves experienced emotional improvement. Use statements such as "You sound so frustrated, how can I help?" or "You must be so sad after what happened, do you want to talk about it?"

Don't Make Assumptions

We may offer our support to others in the way that we like to receive it, but each individual is different and deals with life's challenges in their own way. Avoid making assumptions about what the other person needs from you. The best way to be helpful while respecting their individuality is by asking them how you can support them through this difficult time. If they don't seem to know or you have something in mind, make suggestions such as "Can I visit you?" or "Would you like me to take care of your kids for a while?" Avoid being too pushy or overstepping boundaries by showing up unannounced, making decisions for them or getting other people involved.

Make Their Life Easier

You can help someone going through a difficult time by making other areas of their life easier. If your friend is going through a significant loss or divorce, for example, you can cook some meals for them or offer to pick up the kids from school, so they have one less thing to worry about. In his "Psychology Today" article, "How to Give Support Right," psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton recommends offering "invisible support" that involves doing helpful things for the other person, without being too direct or obvious about it 2.

Be Patient and Understanding

Remember that every person has their own healing process and some people take longer than others. Resist the urge to pressure the person who needs your support to act in a certain way or tell them that it's time to move on. Offer understanding and patience, even if you feel the person is not doing anything to get past their situation. Practice self-care and relaxation activities to help you stay calm, collected and patient while supporting your friend.