What do we need to know if we want to give emotional support to other people? And if we want a friend’s shoulder to lean on?
The Importance of Active Listening
The ability to listen in an active way is fundamental to creating an understanding space. Listening isn’t the same as hearing. When we listen, we perceive with our whole body: our ears, eyes, expressions, etc.
Our whole body invests itself in listening. That way, the person who’s talking can feel that we’re really understanding them.
A good way to demonstrate active listening is by summarizing and paraphrasing what the person is saying as they keep talking. This is how we make sure we’re listening with our full attention and not getting distracted.
It’s really easy for us, without noticing, to talk too soon. Or to give an opinion without having the full story…or, even worse: taking our phone out of our pockets.
“Just by listening deeply, we alleviate pain and suffering.”
Feeling connection with other people can also bring us that emotional support that we need when we feel overwhelmed by our emotions. We need “our people.”
We need to feel like we have someone who wants to hear about our pain and our joy because it matters to them. Someone who understands that we’re complex beings, with complex thoughts. And so, they accept the task (sometimes thankless task) of trying to understand us.
Empathy is a Quality Worth Learning
Empathy is the ability of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. And, understanding their feelings based on their situation. Then we’re able to understand what’s happening to them, how they feel, what they think, and why they behave in a certain way.
Empathy is an ability we can perfect if we really take the time to sit with them, and maybe take their hand. If we make an effort to join them in their darkness, even if it’s scary.
“The most important thing is that we need to be understood. We need someone who’s able to listen to us and understand us. Then, we’ll suffer less.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh-
Let’s say a friend is explaining how they just broke up with their partner. One of the most important ways to make sure this friend can tell we’re supportive is by validating their feelings.
By saying that we understand that’s how people feel in their situation. We focus on appreciating and valuing their emotions.
You don’t have to say a bunch of words to give someone emotional support. In fact, a lot of the time it’s not even necessary. A hug, a glance, or an expression can be enough for the person to feel you’re with them.
Pretending like nothing’s happened, that is, minimizing their pain or suffering, doesn’t usually help. That said, exaggerating their suffering is the exact opposite of validating it. Maybe we wouldn’t have reacted like they did, but that doesn’t make their suffering any less sincere and meaningful.
Getting Emotional Support Relieves Pain
Getting the help and support we need to get through difficult times can bring us a lot of relief and peace. It’s important that we recognize we don’t have to be able to handle everything alone, because tough stuff will happen. And when it does, we might need support from someone we trust and a good vent every once in a while.
Sharing our emotions with other people can actually strengthen our immune system. Plus, it can put is in a position to understand we’re not the only ones who have problems.
We all go through hard times in life. So, it’s better to feel we have someone with us than to have to go through these moments alone. Think about how suffering already brings on introspection as it is, and then adding a feeling of total abandonment to that.
To give emotional support, we’ll need to listen actively, let them talk, and practice empathy so that they will feel supported. And then to receive emotional support, we’ll need a dose of humility.
We’ll have to acknowledge that we’re not capable of processing everything that happens to us alone. So let’s start to get in the habit of asking for help when we need it.