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  • Writer's pictureNicole Serini

The Do's and Dont's of Providing Emotional Support

The Eyes of a Therapist

Nicole M. Serini LMHC

Invalidation Vs. Honor

We’ve all been in the position of being a sounding board for a loved one who is struggling with something.  While they share their pain, they are coming to you looking for support and warmth.  We’ve also been in the position of sharing our pain with others.  There are ways of responding that can be soothing, supportive, and helpful, and there are ways that unintentionally cause the exact opposite, and can cause a spiral effect for that individual for years to come, where this individual questions their feelings, may learn to devalue them and eventually stop sharing.  

It can be a natural instinct when someone is upset to try to think of anything to say, or do to make that individual feel better, or make the situation seem not so bad.    Don’t do this. 

Your attempts will fall flat, and while the hurt person may not share with you, that this is not what they want to hear - Let me tell you -  This is NOT what they want to hear.  

Sometimes, that need to respond in a dismissive, invalidating way comes from a place of anxiety within the listener, and they’re unknowingly trying to quell some of that discomfort within themselves.

“Look at the bright side, It’s not so bad, You’ll be fine, Just ignore it, It will get better, At least _____fill in the blank.”    Worst of all, offering the opposite perspective.  Not helpful here.

 While all of these come from a kind place, they do not help.  A person who is voicing their pain is simply looking for a safe space to do so.  They know you have zero control of the matter.  The fact that they are coming to you means that you’ve either made them feel safe in the past, or, sometimes, you may be in a role (parent, friend, partner) that this person feels like they should, (I hate the word should) be able to come to you for support.  Unfortunately, it’s a hard pill to swallow when those individuals don’t know how, or are unwilling to provide the support you’re looking for.  They may respond with the cliche responses listed in the beginning of this paragraph.  

If you’re one of those individuals who have always struggled to know how to respond when someone comes to you with their pain, here are a few helpful responses that honor feelings:

“Wow, that sounds really difficult,” “I’m here,”  “How can I support you?”  “Is there anything I can do?”  Sometimes a hug, or just saying, “I’m here,” is all that person needs to hear to feel supported.  

The next time you’re in the position of trying to support someone, and you feel the need to minimize, fix it, or offer a positive spin, Don’t.  A hug and a kind word of validation will go way further.

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