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How to Get Emotional Support When You Feel You Have None

Small doses of support can have a much bigger impact than you expect.

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In the modern world, it's common to not feel as supported as we'd like to feel, or even to feel like being completely self-reliant is the only option. When you're next feeling like this, try these suggestions.

1. Don't assume the people who are closest to you or who have experienced your issue themselves will be the best sources of support.

People often seek support from others who've experienced their problem and come out on the other side, but paradoxically, these people can be less supportive. Those people may not want to mentally revisit past painful experiences, and this can lead to them acting detached. Or, they may have an implicit sense that they coped and got through it, so you will too.

Likewise, your close family may not be as supportive as you expect. Often our loose ties are the people who exceed our expectations in terms of how supportive they are.

Try: Be open about what you're going through with a few of your loose connections, and see how that goes. Pick only a few people to start with. Involvement from too many people might start to feel intrusive. With your loose connections, you likely don't need to give them the whole story, so you may only briefly mention what you're going through, and may only get a little bit of general support back, but that might be exactly what you need.

2. Try a free telephone counseling service or something similar.

During my training, I volunteered for about four or five years as a telephone counselor for a service called "Lifeline" in New Zealand (where I lived at the time). The name makes it sound like it's potentially only for people who are suicidal or having a major crisis, but, in fact, people could call about anything.

It's easy to overlook community resources that are available, either because you think your problem is too minor, or you have a negative expectation that it won't be helpful.

If you don't have a service like this in your local area, find a cheap way to call one outside your local area. If you don't click with the person who picks up your call the first time, politely end the call and try again some other time, or try another service.

Try: Find the phone number of a free resource you could potentially use if you need a sounding board. Keep the phone number handy.

3. Be less picky about the type of support you receive.

Have you read those articles titled "What not to say to someone going through...."? Here's the problem with those articles:

In life, there is often a Venn diagram with one circle being the people who are motivated to support you (who care about you), and the other circle being those people who are capable of saying the "right" things about the specific situation you're facing or in general.

If you feel unsupported, it may be that those circles don't have a lot of overlap. However, if you're able to accept a broader range of support, you can potentially get support from people who are very well-motivated, but less skilled in giving support. For instance, folks who care a lot about you, like family members, may not have much comprehension of what you're going through, and therefore can't say the "right" things, but they may still be a very good source of support if you can look past the specifics to their intentions and emotions.

Try: When you're going through a tough time, and your emotions are very raw, you may feel very easily triggered by anything someone says that is not quite right. It's a skill to be able to acknowledge this to yourself (e.g., "I would prefer my stepdad to have used X term and not Y term when we're discussing my issue") without completely isolating yourself from the support that is well-meaning.

If the love is there, look past some specifics. It's possible to feel simultaneously a bit triggered but also supported.

4. Think outside the box.

It sounds bizarre, but I get an incredible feeling of support from my robot vacuum cleaner. If I'm having a day in which I am responsible for everything that needs to be done with no help, having the robot do a task feels supportive.

I also feel supported when I go to my gym because of the sense of community there. I go most days, and the staff typically greet people who come regularly by name. Just that little bit of human connection feels supportive, as well as being around other people who are engaging in sports and wellness.

In her new book, The Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal writes about how people often feel supported when they move together. Perhaps there is a yoga class, running or hiking group, or other similar group involving physical movement that would feel like a source of social support for you.

Asking questions often gives an opportunity for you to feel supported. Just today I asked on Twitter for some “pick-me-up” song recommendations and got some great ones. I felt supported that people took a minute out of their day to share what they like.

Try: Become a better self-observer of little things that give you strong feelings of social support, and experiment with this. There are ways to not isolate yourself when you’re feeling emotional that don’t necessarily involve big, deep, and meaningful conversations or other stereotypical types of support.

Facebook image: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

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