What is emotional support and why might you want to learn how to give and receive emotional support?
Have you ever reached for your phone and texted a friend when you had a bad day? If so, then you’ve experienced the positive effects of emotional support. In this article, we’ll talk about emotional support, how to give and receive it, and what strategies you can use to be more supportive.
What Is Emotional Support?
Emotional support is an intentional verbal and nonverbal way to show care and affection for one another. By providing emotional support to another person, you offer them reassurance, acceptance, encouragement, and caring, making them feel valued and important (Burleson, 2003).
When you directly express affection and concern or when you reassure someone that they are loved and important, you may help them cope with upset feelings or challenging situations.
There are many people who may both give and receive our emotional support. For example:
Online groups and social networks
When you’re happy, you can share your joys with others. When you’re sad, you can have a shoulder to cry on. Receiving this emotional support helps us cope with daily problems, stress, disappointments, and pain and makes us feel happier and more capable of dealing with the troubles of life (Atoum & Al-Shobul, 2018).
Is Emotional Support the Same as Social Support?
Social support, a key characteristic of social relationships, is an umbrella term that encompasses four different types of support, including emotional support.
The four types of support are:
Emotional support. Emotional support is an expression of empathy, love, and caring. For example, when a family member listens to you after a bad day at work or when your partner instills hope back into your life after a challenging period.
Instrumental support. Instrumental support is an actual service or tangible aid provided by someone. For example, your partner might work from home a few days a week to take care of the kids while you go to work.
Informational support. Informational support is the advice or information you receive and can be helpful for problem-solving. For instance, when your mom tells you her experience as a working woman and advises you what to do with your current boss.
Appraisal. In social support, appraisal refers to information that is helpful for self-evaluation and encouragement. Hearing your supervisor compliment your nonjudgemental listening skills and patience for problem-solving is an example of appraisal support that can be helpful for you to gain confidence that you chose the right career path.
All types of support are important for our well-being. However, they play different roles in our lives. Sometimes, you need to have a loving conversation with your close friend about how you have been feeling recently, while sometimes you need to problem-solve with a coach to explore strategies that might make you feel better.
How to Emotionally Support Someone
Emotional support can take many shapes and sizes. It is important to understand not only what type of emotional support you can offer but also what type of emotional support the other person wants or needs to receive.
For example, your partner might come home from work very stressed and want to recharge. While he would like to tell you all about his stressful day, you would like to show your emotional support by hugging or kissing instead of listening. So, what should you do?
Ask for what they need. Many researchers recommend asking your partner, or your friends, what type of support they would like to receive. Would they want you to provide an empathetic ear to their problems? To problem-solve with them? To talk about something else and provide a distraction? Similarly, you can signal to others what you would like them to do to better support you.
Connect and listen. It is essential to set aside time to listen to each other and to share thoughts. By practicing active listening and sharing, we build stronger connections and trust, and the other person feels more supported in their struggles.
Ask questions. Be curious about what they are experiencing and ask questions in a gentle way so the other person doesn’t feel like they are questioned. Asking them about what they are feeling can also be helpful to put things into perspective and name their feelings.
Validate. When you validate someone, you are signaling to them that you recognize their distress and understand their perspective. Usually, seeing that they are understood and cared for can be extremely positive and help them recover faster.
Give compliments. Saying nice things about your friends and family can feel very supportive.
Keep the focus on the receiver. If you are providing emotional support, it will make the other person feel genuinely cared for if the focus of the conversation is on them. You can provide a short anecdote or reference, but it is important to keep the focus on them.
Check-in after. Sometimes, they might not want to talk about it, but it is still meaningful if you nicely ask how they are feeling. You don’t have to ask them every day or multiple times to show that you care.
Although research shows the various benefits of receiving support, it also shows the importance of giving support. Studies have shown that providing support reduces the effect of disability (Gruenewald et al., 2007) and has a positive effect on blood pressure (Piferi & Lawler, 2006).
Interestingly, those who give more support also get more support. This might happen because people feel better after helping others which improves their health, or because they are in a quality relationship in which they can reciprocate the positive behaviors and feelings (Reblin & Uchino, 2008)
Emotional support is an extremely important and beneficial part of high-quality relationships. It can even improve our mental and physical health. So, it’s worth the time to learn how to give and receive emotional support.
Atoum, A. Y., & Al-Shoboul, R. A. (2018). Emotional support and its relationship to Emotional intelligence. Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal, 5(1).
Burleson, B. R. (2003). Emotional support skills. In J. O. Greene & B. R. Burleson (Eds.), Handbook of communication and social interaction skills (pp. 551–594). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Piferi, R. L., & Lawler, K. A. (2006). Social support and ambulatory blood pressure: An examination of both receiving and giving. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 62(2), 328-336.
Reblin, M., & Uchino, B. N. (2008). Social and emotional support and its implication for health. Current opinion in psychiatry, 21(2), 201.