When we’re happy, supportive relationships seem to be everywhere. But when we’re hurting why does someone who we expect to be supportive avoid us instead?
While there are many possibilities, one possible reason someone avoids us in this situation has to do with their unresolved issues. Basically, if our struggle reminds them of an unresolved issue in their life, they might be reluctant to help us since if they did they’d risk feeling their own pain. Also, not helping may be a conscious choice they make or it can be an automatic response that they have.
Another reason they don’t respond could be that we assumed that a supportive relationship exists when it really doesn’t. If this happens to you and you’re certain of the supportive relationship, assume the other person’s response isn’t about you personally but instead assume it’s an overwhelming emotional reaction that they feel.
Later, if you wished to, you could talk to them about your expectations of their support and ask why they stayed away. (However, they may not be able to explain what happened.) If it turns out that you made a wrong assumption about having a supportive relationship talk about this too and clarify the nature of the relationship.
If the situation was reversed and you couldn’t emotionally support someone, let the person know that your response was not about them personally. Sharing with them what happened to you could build a reliable supportive connection between you.
Here are some ways to be supportive of others:
- Empathize. Try to imagine what it’s like for them and how they’re feeling. Saying something like “I’m really sorry that you’re going through this” shows them your care.
- Listen. Saying something like “Let me make sure I understand you. What you’re saying is…” shows that you’re listening. Then listen for their emotional needs and let them know how you can (realistically) help. If they aren’t communicating clearly with you, try to label their feelings for them. For example, saying something like “You must feel (hurt, lonely, angry, sad). How can I help you right now?” shows that you’re focused on them, you’re listening to them and that you care.
- Don’t give advice. Unless you’re directly asked for suggestions or the person is in a crisis situation, giving unsolicited advice doesn’t feel very supportive.
- Don’t judge. Remember, everyone does the best they can in life. Show respect even if you disagree with the other person. Your values or beliefs about how you would handle their situation are not important to someone who is hurting or who may be depressed.
- Be positive. Say something like “You’ve been through hard times before. You can find your way through this”. Or, “This may be an opportunity for you to grow.”
- Control your emotions. Focus on understanding. Don’t get angry when your plans suddenly have to change because the other person is hurting. If the situation could have been avoided, talk to the person about this later.
- Emotional honesty. Being straightforward about your feelings gains respect from others. For example, if you’re hurt by a remark, saying something like “What you said really hurt. I felt that you….”
- Stay calm. You can still be stern and forceful without yelling.
- Keep your word. Sometimes helping someone through their situation requires much more than you originally thought it would.
- Patience. Supportive relationships take time and effort to build. You must be patient, emotionally available, empathetic, self-aware and open minded to be as supportive as possible.
Meeting with a psychotherapist or professional relationship counselor can help you work through roadblocks you might have about being supportive to others or about how you feel when you are emotionally unsupported.
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