3. Practice Reflective Listening.
When people are struggling emotionally they don’t want you to fix their pain, they want to feel understood. This takes the pressure off of you to think that you need to solve another person’s problem, and gives you permission to merely listen. So, how do we get out of the fixing mindset and start helping people feel understood?
The best way is to practice a technique called Reflective Listening. Reflective Listening means that when someone tells you something, you simply reflect back to them what they said, either literally or with your own understanding.
The value of reflecting back what someone just said is that it helps them feel like you are with them, that you’re connected and understanding. By mirroring another person’s experience you’re giving them something far more valuable than advice — you’re giving them a genuine connection.
4. Validate Your Own Emotions.
One of the hardest things about being in the presence of an anxious person is the emotions they tend to stir up in us. When we’re deep into a spiral of our own negative emotions, it’s hard to have enough mental and emotional bandwidth to navigate our own mood and that of someone else. This is why we often react to other people’s moods in a way that ultimately isn’t helpful to them, us, or the relationship.
The solution is to get better at noticing and managing ourselves early and we do this through validation. Validation simply means acknowledging our own emotions and reminding ourselves that they’re okay and perfectly reasonable.
If you are in the presence of an anxious person, acknowledge that you’re feeling annoyed and frustrated, remind yourself that it’s okay and natural to feel that way, and then ask yourself what the most helpful way to move forward might be.
5. Remember It’s Not Your Responsibility.
A mistake I see people make when trying to deal effectively with other people’s problems is taking responsibility for how the other person feels. In short, because you can’t control how someone feels, you’re not responsible for them. So much unnecessary struggle, conflict, and energy come from a fundamental misunderstanding about what’s really under our control.
It truly amazing how much genuinely helpful energy gets freed up when you remove the burden of excess responsibility from yourself. When you stop expecting to be able to make someone feel better, you can start taking real steps to connect with them in a heartfelt way and become genuinely supportive.
Overall, painful emotions are hard to deal with— both in ourselves and the people we care about. While it’s not possible to “fix” another person’s emotional struggles, there are a handful of practical skills you can learn to help you be more genuinely supportive and helpful. Skills like self-validation and reflective listening will help you stay calm and effective instead of reactive and impulsive in the face of other people’s problems.
Helping your loved ones deal with the difficult things in their lives, is a mark of being a good human being. But, you also need to be careful that while you are providing the support you do not get sucked into the problems of others; this will just end up making the situation more complicated. Remember these pointers, and support people the right way.