How to provide emotional support?

If you’re an ENTP (or perceptive systemizer, as I used to call it) like me, your average ‘support’ conversation might go something like this:

Friend (co-worker, sibling, anyone): “My life sucks, I have a problem [describes problem] …”

You: “Oh man, that sounds fucked up. Have you considered doing X? Have you tried Y? I just read about Z, maybe that will help! Hey, I’m good at doing A, do you want me to do A for you?”

Friend: “… no, that won’t work, I’ve tried X and Y, and Z is not a good fit for me and A? Thanks, but no thanks”

The longer I spend coming up with solutions, the more distant the other person becomes. And at some point I realize they just don’t want to solve their issue. Frustrating shit: what the hell are they whining about then?

What if we’re not supposed to solve the problem?

If there’s one thing ENTP’s are known for, it’s our ability to solve problems. All kinds of problems. We’re creative as fuck doing it. Looking for a new job? Relationship issues? Trying to figure out some complex situation or system? We got you covered. Which is why we can become absolutely paralyzed when we run into people who have problems but don’t want to solve them.

Unfortunately for us, many other people (and frankly, even ENTP’s from time to time) don’t only talk about problems to get their problem solved. Sometimes, they just crave emotional support. Ugh. What the hell does that even mean and how are we supposed to provide it?

A five-step approach to emotional support

I’ve made a list of things that help me deal, and I thought I might share it with you, see if you find this stuff useful as well. Basically, I have a five-step approach to emotional support (the more feeling types are probably cringing already at the fact I need an approach to deal with emotions ;-)):

  1. Often, when people reject solutions, it’s because they feel the one offering the solution doesn’t understand the problem. As ENTP’s, we have a great intuition and we’re pretty smart, so odds are that we do understand. Still, it’s good to check rather than assuming. I often find it helpful to ask some extra questions to get more clarity on the situation. Even if the answers confirm what I already suspected, it shows the other person that I get the full picture.
  2. A different thing that’s really important to me is recognizing in time if someone really isn’t interested in a solution. If I propose a solution and they instantly dismiss it for no good reason, there’s quite a big chance they’re just not looking for a solution in the first place;
  3. Providing emotional support is pretty hard for me, so it’s not something I’m willing to do endlessly. Which is why I try to assess the situation before offering help. Is this emotional support an occasional thing, or is it a black hole of self pity that just won’t stop, ever? And how important is this person to me? Obviously, my boyfriend is more important than some random person I run into at a party. So in short: I try to determine whether I want to provide emotional support at all. It’s not mandatory, you know 🙂
  4. Ask! This is a fairly brilliant idea I read somewhere, that sometimes really helps people get unstuck. Ask people how you can help them best. Maybe they just need someone to listen, or they want a hug, or they need to hear some comforting words. Some people are able to tell you what they need and once you know that, it’s so much easier to provide it. If a friend is feeling shitty and I notice my help doesn’t do any good, I usually tell them something like: “hey, I’m not sure how I can help you with this and I’m afraid things I do are actually making it worse, so if you still want *to talk about it/me to come up with a solution/a hug*, just tell me”. It’s not bulletproof, but with some people it really works.
  5. Some people have no idea what they want. In that case, I try any or all of the following emotion-related actions that tend to work on more feeling-oriented people. I’d suggest you just try them out and see what works:
    1. Tell them everything will be alright. That’s not entirely a lie: odds are, the situation will remain the same but their feelings towards it will change, and it will actually be alright.
    2. Tell them you understand they feel the way they say they do. Mind you, this is NOT the same thing as saying you understand what they’re going through. Just confirm their feelings are valid. What works for me is saying something like “I can totally see why you would feel this way”. On the other hand, saying “I’ve totally been in the same situation, I get what you’re going through” might backfire. Subtle difference, but it’s there.
    3. Hug! Some people are really physical. Besides, hugging (as petting animals and some other stuff), triggers our parasympathetic nervous system, causing us to feel better. So hugging is entirely rational. Whether hugging is a good idea does kind of depend on your relationship with this other person, so don’t apply this at random.
    4. Provide distraction. Go do something fun together.
    5. Just be there. It’s usually not an ENTP’s strong suit, since it makes us feel powerless, but sometimes just being there and listening is enough to make someone feel better.

So, those are just my ways of dealing with emotional issues and I have to admit it doesn’t come natural to me. What about you? What do you do when people come to you for emotional support? Please share your horror stories or brilliant tips!

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