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How to Ask Your People for Emotional Support

Be your own advocate in tough times.

Source: SDI Productions
Source: SDI Productions

Asking for help can be scary and being vulnerable may seem challenging, but in the end, your friends and family are your support system: Tell them what you need. Don’t know how to ask? Here are some ways to get started.

1. Ask Yourself First

Ask yourself, “What would make me feel better?” It could be for any situation, like trying to finish a master’s degree, plan a wedding, deal with a family illness, or finish IVF treatment. If your automatic response is, “I don’t know,” think about it until you do know. Once you do, call your support system and ask for it. It could be as simple as having someone to talk to who’s willing to listen or taking a workout class to release some endorphins. It’s important to self-reflect first and understand what you need to move forward.

2. Use Scripts and Give Examples

Scripts can help you start the conversation with your loved ones. Sometimes the hardest part of asking is knowing where to start.

Here are a few approaches you can try:

  • “I would love it if you_____”
  • “Please help me by _____”
  • “I’d really appreciated your help with _______”
  • “When you ___, I feel so much better”

Everyone has different needs: One friend may like talking about their problem, and another may like distractions. Let your support system know what you need. They want to get it right, so help them out. Give concrete suggestions like, “I would appreciate if you could check in on me once a week,” or, “I loved it when you took the burden off me and planned that movie night.” Thoughtful things like these can go a long way.

3. Tell Them the Story

Sometimes when we’re close to a problem, we forget that others might not be as tuned-in situationally and emotionally. It can be difficult to relive something or put yourself in a vulnerable position but having them understand the full story may help with the type of emotional support they provide to you.

It’s important that you only share what you want to share: You can always tell but you can’t ever un-tell. Find the right balance for you.

4. Offer Support Back

Since you know it can be scary to make yourself vulnerable by asking for emotional support, offer to return the favor. Letting your friends and family know that you will be there for them in the future is a powerful way to say thank you, that you are not solely focused on yourself, and that you have plenty of strength to share. If you remind yourself that you’d want to help them, it may be easier for you to let them help you.

5. Laugh and Play

Emotional support does not have to mimic intensive psychotherapy. You can ask your loved ones for humorous emails, game time, girl’s night out, retail therapy, hiking, biking, or a pizza night. Laughter and play are both natural stress relievers and release the body’s own stress-reducing biochemicals. You won’t be jinxing the results of your promotion, your father’s treatment, or your IVF journey if you have some fun or give yourself permission let yourself think about something other than your problem. Deliberately putting some pleasure back in your life – especially with loved ones — can help you get to the final lap of any emotional long haul.

6. Be Patient

If you don’t get the emotional support you want, remember that as much as a friend may want to support you, he or she may be dealing with his or her own issues. Be patient and understand if they cannot help or if there’s a day that they seem distant. The same way you’re prioritizing your self-care, they need to prioritize theirs. If you are not able to find emotional support, or if it is not enough, seek professional help. Again, there is no need to go through anything alone.

If your career is in danger, your fertility is in question, or your relationship is in limbo, don’t wait too long or think you must try to solve it on your own before you are entitled to support. Asking for emotional support is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign of self-love. Sure, binge-watching may be a temporary distraction, but fictional screen characters don’t respond to you. Find real people, face to face, who know what you are going through and who may have gone through the same thing themselves. Be honest about what you need, and you may be surprised at how true friends come out in the darkest of times.

More from Georgia Witkin Ph.D.
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