Blog Articles and Resources
By Elijah Evans TLMHC
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Many people struggle with how to best provide support for their loved ones who are dealing with negative emotions. There are two major kinds of interpersonal support: Instrumental support and emotional support. Instrumental support is helping people by doing something tangible for them, such as providing information or completing tasks on their behalf. Emotional support, on the other hand, is validating the emotions the person is going through—letting them know their reactions make sense to you given the circumstances—without trying to change the way they feel. It is very common for people to offer instrumental support as soon as they learn the people they care about are unhappy, especially since it feels like they are doing something concrete to be of assistance. This approach often backfires because trying to solve the problems causing negative emotions tends to imply the message that a person’s negative emotions are unwelcome. If you find loved ones get upset with you when you’re only trying to help, I suggest starting with providing emotional support and proceeding to instrumental support only if it is specifically requested. My guess is you’ll find that most of the time, people just want to feel heard and understood rather than have their problems solved. Plus, if you’re not sure what a loved one needs from you, you can directly ask them what kind of support they are needing at the moment. In my experience, people are willing and able to express which kind of support they are seeking.
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.