Five Keys to Giving Emotional Support

November 30, 2019
Providing the right kind of emotional support for someone in need can be tricky. In this article, you'll learn some strategies that will help you help others.

No doubt you’ve been in a situation where someone close to you was in a difficult emotional place and you weren’t sure what to do. Obviously, giving emotional support is your priority, but that’s often easier said than done and can leave you feeling awkward.

Some authors define emotional support as: “The establishment of a personal relationship between the affected person and the person who offers help, with the goal of providing peace and support, creating a climate of trust, reducing their fears and anxieties, encouraging their emotional expression, and helping them adapt to the problem”. (Elsass, Duedahl et Cols., 1987).

When you provide effective emotional support, you create a safe space where the other person can express themselves freely without judgment. As mental health professionals, our approach is to provide a series of tools that the patient can use to resolve their problems.

If you’re not a professional and you still want to help, there are many ways to provide effective emotional support.

A person holding someone's hands.

Keys to giving emotional support

1. Find an appropriate place

Look for a comfortable place, free of distractions such as TV, radio, cell phones, and other people. The other person should feel safe. Once you start talking, you should be able to go on with few interruptions.

2. Active, non-judgmental listening

Listening carefully and attentively is one of the best ways to provide emotional support. People often need someone to help them formulate an account of what happened; an account that they can work into their life story and an account they can live with.

On the other hand, listening doesn’t mean offering solutions. Maybe you have a very clear idea of what you would do in their place. However, remember that they have the final say.

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

-Albert Schweitzer-

3. Practice empathy

True empathy isn’t exactly possible. You’ll never truly be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Thus, when we talk about practicing empathy, we just mean attempting to see things from another person’s point of view. If you’re trying to provide emotional support, that’s infinitely better than looking at things from your point of view. Just remember that the exercise of trying to see things through someone else’s eyes is imperfect.

If the person you’re talking to starts to cry, let them cry. Crying is actually one of the best ways to show emotions and heal the soul. It’s one of the best ways to say “I’m human and I need your help”. Whatever you do, don’t interrupt them, as that could make them feel misunderstood or ashamed.

A guy giving emotional support to a friend.

4. Show affection

In these situations, some affection is usually appropriate. It’s feedback for the other person, a way of letting them know that you’re listening and that you’re there for them. You can give them a hug or squeeze their shoulder, whatever feels right at that moment.

5. Finding information or professional help is another way of giving emotional support

Lastly, help from qualified professionals is always beneficial. There’ll be situations that require it and others that don’t, but it can’t hurt.

Fortunately, now people no longer think that psychologists are only for the insane. On the contrary, the general consensus is that therapy is for people who love themselves and want to take care of their mental health. Thus, if you want to provide emotional support but feel like it’s out of your league, you could help your loved one find a psychologist that they can talk to about their problems.

Elsass, P., Duedahl, H., Friis, B., Møller, I. W., & Sørensen, M. B. (1987). The psychological effects of having a contact‐person from the anesthetic staff. Acta anaesthesiologica scandinavica31(7), 584-586.