Are you someone who has unintentionally worsened a friend or loved one’s issue by responding ineffectively? If so, then you’re on the right page! I’m addressing the five most ineffective responses in this post to help you be a better form of emotional support for someone you love.
Understanding and correcting these five responses has made my relationships closer, healthier, and more secure. I’ve also become a safe person for my loved ones.
So let’s get to the five most ineffective responses.
“You’ll be fine.”
You might think that this response gives a “hopeful” consolation. Well, I’m sorry to say this, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t help you to be a good source of emotional support because you dismiss your loved one’s struggle. It’s like responding to “I broke my leg” with “your leg won’t be broken any time now.”
What to do instead: Focus on the present. The struggle is happening now, so your loved one needs comfort now. Not tomorrow. Not in the future. Not any time soon, but now. It’d more helpful to say, “We’ll get through this,” or “I’m here for you.” Don’t brush your loved one’s struggle under the rug.
“That’s nothing compared to what I went through.”
We all have different thresholds for pain. What others find to be a big deal might be nothing to you and vice versa. But it’s important to remember your loved one approached you for emotional support, not for a contest on who’s had it worse.
What to do instead: Give them the time and attention that they need. Again, this isn’t a competition. So as much as they’re comfortable, let them talk and express themselves.
“You should _________”
“Should” is a powerful and controlling word. It requires a person to do something, which is why should-statements are called imperatives. Instead of helping your loved one, you’re trying to control how they “should” think and what they “should” do. You’re not allowing them to take control of their issue as though you want to be their savior especially when they didn’t ask you to tell them what to do.
What to do instead: Know your place as someone giving emotional support. Not everyone wants pieces of advice. Some would just like you to listen or hold their hand in silence. It wouldn’t hurt to ask if they’d rather you listen, or you give them advice.
“Don’t be sad.”
Our emotions aren’t controlled by a switch that we can just flick on or off. This isn’t like Zac Efron crying on cue. By responding this way, your loved one won’t automatically be comforted or be happy. If anything, there’s a tendency that your loved one would be repelled to confide in you. You have to remember that something might’ve happened that affected your loved one’s emotions. As someone giving emotional support, it’s essential that you encourage them to express themselves.
What to do instead: Make your loved one feel that their issue is valid. Assure your loved one that what they’re going through is true and real. Try asking questions that might encourage them to express more. But, try not to be intrusive or invasive. You can ask, “What might have led you to what you’re currently feeling?”
This is a go-to of those who feel awkward when someone else cries. But keep in mind that crying is a healthy emotional expression. If ever your loved one cries as they confide in you, this response is a big no-no. This response is like a neighbor blocking your driveway when you need to get to work. It stifles your loved one. It also has the tendency of making your loved one feel guilty for opening up to you.
What to do instead: If you aren’t comfortable or emotionally ready to support a crying loved one, be honest. Use “I” messages to get your message across. For instance, say “I feel uncomfortable when I see you cry” vs “Your crying is making me feel uncomfortable.” With “I” messages, you express yourself instead of putting the blame on your loved one.
When someone seeks emotional support from you, it’s not about you. It’s about your loved one and the difficulty they’re going through. The responses we talked about here might be the “easy” responses to say. But they invalidate your loved one’s difficulties and they manipulate your loved one into thinking they are a burden. In fact, these responses are forms of gaslighting. So, how does knowing these responses help you?
Let me know by leaving a comment! 😊