Category: Relationships

The dos and don’ts of emotional support

The dos and don'ts of emotional support
Giving emotional support is not as straightforward as you may think

Giving emotional support is not as straightforward as you may think. When we acknowledge that most of us were raised in an environment of emotional neglect and perfectionism, it becomes clear how a lack of emotional intimacy affects our ability to deal with feelings naturally. The habit of distancing ourselves from feelings, especially when negative, and refusing to embrace their wisdom and our own vulnerability, only creates an even bigger distance between others and ourselves. If you would like to change that scenario and feel more connected, here are the dos and don’ts of emotional support:

1- Do not problem solve

Emotional support does what it says on the tin. Therefore, it is not about coming up with ideas to solve a problem, but dealing with the feelings that surround it. Unless there is a clear call for help, most of us do not need practical advice when talking about the issues that concern or upset us. It is also worth noticing that the urge to “help” and solve other people’s problems or afflictions – even when help is neither needed nor requested – is at the core of codependent behaviour.

2- Focus on feelings

Emotional support comes from a place of attunement to another person’s need for having his or her feelings recognised and validated. There is nothing more comforting when we are feeling low, frustrated or anxious, for instance, than having someone around us that respects our inadequacy by honouring the way we feel. When you say to someone in distress, “I can see that that is upsetting to you”, regardless of what is going on or if you agree with that person’s reasons or emotional reaction, you make him or her feel seen, accepted and understood.

3- Do not make it about you

Our complexity as individuals is so immense, that no experience is ever felt in an equal fashion by two different people. As soon as you start talking about your experience, giving examples of how you have dealt with a similar issue to the one brought up by the other person, the focus is turned to you. As it has been mentioned before, emotional support is not about analysing and comparing experiences and, supposedly, learning from them, but noticing and addressing feelings.

4- Do not antagonise

To antagonise is to oppose, which is the opposite of what is understood by “to support”. While an emotionally congruent and supportive person favours the expression and recognition of feelings, be it in himself/herself or others, an antagonising, selfish or emotionally neglectful one has the habit of ignoring, repressing, avoiding, denying or normalising them. When you behave like the latter, you are not giving emotional support, but alienating the other. You can do that quite automatically, unintentionally and unconsciously, by using common sense judgement, motivational speech, excessive positive psychology and platitudes, for instance.

5- Be empathic

Empathy is like a mirror, or the ability to feel, see and experience what the other is feeling, seeing or experiencing. Simply put, when someone feels sad, angry, fearful or disgusted, those are the feelings you focus on and seek to validate. Moreover, you display an empathic attitude when you do the following:

  • Take time to listen: let the person speak and do not interrupt. Do not rush to get that tissue or glass of water either, but focus on what the person has to say first.
  • Stay with the inadequacy and embrace it. Be emotionally tolerant by allowing emotional expression and flow.
  • Agree with the other. Put yourself in his or her shoes and try to see the world from his or her perspective.
  • When lost for words, use the following:

“It must have been hard”

“I see that that is upsetting to you”

“I also hate when that happens”

“I hear you. That must have been annoying for you”

 “Feeling anxious sucks, doesn’t it?”

“ I can see that you are angry, what happened?”

“It is awful when that happens”

“You must have felt uncomfortable”

“I understand that that is not easy for you”

“I am sorry you feel that way”

“I see your point”

“That’s sad/scary/disgusting/awful/annoying!”

“I understand how that must have made you feel”

“It must suck feeling that way”

  • Give the other a sign of your affection. If you have an intimate relationship with the other person, you can also offer him or her a hug or a kiss, once he or she has finished talking and dealing with his or her feelings of inadequacy.

Constructive x destructive criticism

Destructive criticism is the language of low self-esteem.

Giving or receiving criticism with dignity and compassion can at times come as a challenge. Everyone is able to recognise the benefits of seeing through a different perspective. Criticism fosters learning and self-improvement, be it in our personal or professional lives. When the moment of sharing a different opinion presents itself, however, criticism may feel difficult to handle gracefully.

As criticism has the potential to hurt and influence others in a powerful way, the responsibility of the giver remains the greatest. Our real intentions often get lost in the murky pool of human relationships. What may feel as a will to ‘help others’ can in true fact emerge from a deep, long-standing desire to control and manipulate. Even in cases when we are motivated by nothing than genuinely good intentions, communicating criticism with respect and consideration remains a fine skill.

Unfortunately, we are unable to mind read or predict someone else’s reaction to what we have to say. Our individual experiences with criticism have their unique way of shaping our perception. What may be OK for some may be damaging to somebody else. The best way to approach criticism is to see it as a double-sided coin. On one side it is constructive (good, productive and compassionate), while the other carries destructive features (it is ineffective, unproductive and selfish).

Constructive criticism is raised in a calm and collected manner. When you are exposed to constructive criticism, it feels like you are just hearing an added piece of information. Constructive criticism does not change the flow of conversation dramatically. It sounds like an offer of help that is too tempting to be refused. It feels like an invitation to become part of something good:

A: I know of some excellent books to help you write that piece, would you like me to show them to you?

B: Are you OK with making that pie? Do you think you could do with some help?

C: I’ve got some practical tips to improve your time-management skills, would you like to hear about them?

Destructive criticism sounds like a personal attack. It is emotionally charged and coloured with terms and expressions of negative connotation that make you feel inadequate and out of place. It changes the harmonious flow of conversation into something unnerving and unpredictable. Feeling cornered, you immediately switch to defensive mood without even realising it.

A: That has been poorly written. It doesn’t make any sense! It looks as if you haven’t either read or understand anything about the subject.

B: You don’t have a clue what you’re doing, do you? Without my help that is going to fall apart!

C: I can’t believe you’re late on that project. Why is it so hard for you to respect a deadline?

destructive criticism
There are two basic types of criticism: destructive and constructive.

As it is raised in order to genuinely help the receiver, constructive criticism is given with tact and respect, acknowledging the person’s skills and abilities that are already in place. It is rich in detail, clear and specific, so you know exactly what you have done wrong or could do with improvement. It is practical and straightforward; contributing positively towards enhancing the receiver’s learning experience:

A: I see what you mean by raising that point there; it is worth exploring it in greater depth. What about adding some examples to make it clearer to the reader? You could start with something like…

B: You mixed your ingredients well, you just need to butter that tin otherwise the base is going to stick on the bottom. You can still do it before putting it into the oven, but you will have to move the dough into another bowl first.

C: I like the fact that you have managed to get everyone motivated to work on our priorities. Since we are quite tight on time with this particular client, it would speed things up even further if you…

Destructive criticism, conversely, is exaggerated and vague. As its aim is to intimidate, belittle or even humiliate, destructive criticism lacks information that may be of learning value to the receiver. Instead of its focus being on specific behaviours, destructive criticism works as to discredit the entire person:

A: That’s absolutely awful. How can you expect anyone to understand that? You will have to do it all again!

B: That’s a disaster! It’s not going to cook properly! Baking is really not your thing!

C: I’d have expected so much more from someone in your position. Anyone would think you could have done much better than that by now!

Be it at home with your spouse or children, at work with your colleagues or employees or out with friends or extended family, sharing your views with respect and compassion can do wonders to everyone involved. Productive criticism helps people connect and grow. Taking time and patience to elaborate on your assessments always pays off in the end. Even if the concept of productive criticism has never had real application in your own life, you can start a new trend by using it with the people around you. It is never too late to incorporate positive changes into your behaviour. You can take over the rules of the game and turn criticism into a win-win experience.

Understanding assumptions

assumptions
Assumptions – or intermediate beliefs, in cognitive terms – derive from our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people.

Assumptions have a high power of influence over human behaviour. As firm believers in the Law of Cause and Effect, we act according to what we believe. If I assume I am not qualified enough for a certain position and for that reason will not be offered a job, chances are I will not fill in that application. Assumptions are of a general nature and tend to follow a common sense approach. They come as deceivingly relatable sweeping statements, that when inspected with objectivity fail to address the complexity of individual contexts, chance or random factors. I may have qualities other than qualifications that might be more appealing to the needs of a particular interviewer at a given moment in time. As I have no way of objectively knowing what the future holds, my choice is ultimately based on an assumption.

Assumptions – or intermediate beliefs, in cognitive terms – derive from our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people. Core beliefs are, predominantly, product of our education and upbringing.  These beliefs are reinforced through rewards on personal behaviour and tend to reflect cultural values held by a group’s majority. As young children, we learn how to use our core beliefs as personal frames of reference for thoughts and behaviours that are widely accepted by others, such as our parents, teachers and friends. Throughout development, we bond with people who identify (consciously or not) with those same core beliefs, and that are able to relate to the assumptions from which they originate. To go against what everyone else thinks – not to act in accordance with the beliefs of others – makes us stand out as unconventional. Not being considered normal may result in emotional discomfort.

The human experience is so rich that makes the credibility of absolutes somewhat wobbly. Assumptions tend to bypass this very richness, failing to make us justice. We are multi-layered individuals who are constantly adapting to the demands of a new tomorrow. What I thought was right 10 years ago might not be the way to go today, even though I felt so intensively inclined to believing it back then. Those who adopt a flexible attitude towards core beliefs and the assumptions from which they arise are more likely to experience satisfying levels of self-realisation and growth.

Here are two examples of assumptions that are not doing you any favours:

‘If I treat others with respect I can expect to be treated equally’

A golden rule introduced by your mum and dad to justify you being nice to others. It may have taught you good manners back when you were 5, but now it is affecting your mood in a negative way.

Having fixed expectations about people’s responses to you is unrealistic. As individuals we respond to only one agent: our own selves. Even for those who lack real selves, the choice to follow somebody else’s mind is still their choice. We cannot help but be. Beings also includes feeling unfriendly, arrogant, anxious, impatient, cranky, depressed, restless, distressed, upset, distracted and self-absorbed. In essence, feelings are not guided by a sense of fairness. They also precede social conventions or personal intent. There is so much involved in just being, that to take it personally when someone’s behaviour does not correspond to your expectation is a waste of emotional energy. You can save some precious emotional juice by stopping to evaluate everyone’s behaviour in relation to you. Become an observer, make a mental note of what you see and feel without attaching further meaning to it. This is a simple attitude that is bound to contribute to your sense of self-mastery over your moods.

‘If I put great effort into achieving something that means I will succeed’

Another assumption that is frequently at the heart of so many feelings of disappointment. Our focus is so often centred on ourselves that we tend to ignore everything else that plays a part at our life’s developments. So many factors can contribute (or not) to your success in whatever you do. Be it in your personal or professional life, you are not the sole influence on either things or people. You are limited to the extent that you are able to shape your entire reality. Working your hardest may not be all it takes to secure that promotion. Making sure you always look and act your best may not be enough to keep that relationship going. Just because you have quality time with your child doesn’t mean you will end up sharing the same interests.

As cause and effect, the relationship between quantity and quality cannot be defined accurately by absolutes. Hardly anything is 100% certain when it comes to the human experience, only that there is birth and usually a while later, death. Even though you can observe certain trends between your degree of dedication and performance, that still does not mean that your results will always be the same in every single attempt. Opening your perception to the uncertainty of life is as relevant a skill as any other. Knowledge may lead you to power, but it can also make your mind a prisoner of self-reliance. Freedom also comes with acceptance and the courage to just let it be.

Assumptions are not an entirely irrational thing to have, as long as we stick to their denotative meaning. A healthy attitude towards assumptions is to bear in mind that a belief remains a belief in spite of how strongly I feel in relation to it. Assumptions are not facts, but widespread subjective notions that do not require proof to be validated. Time may be an indication of how tightly connected an assumption has become to a group’s sense of identity, but that is all. Because an assumption has been held for a long time still does not make it true. How comfortable would you currently be with the idea that the earth is flat? The belief was held for over 200 years and it still did not change the shape of our planet.