When things are really tough for you, do you find yourself thinking of friends and family and kind of grading the emotional support they offer? Do you ever have these kind of thoughts?
Well so and so has not called to see how things are going
It was nice of them to check in but that was last week
They promised to help but then weren’t there when I needed them
They only called to tell me about their problems
It can be hard to admit, even to ourselves, that we judge the emotional support people offer us in this way. No-one wants to feel needy, or ungrateful but when we are feeling really bad it’s all too easy to lose perspective.
Of course, when we are going through hard times we look for emotional support from people we love and trust. We know that being able to express our worries in a supported environment will help us to cope better. The problem comes when we hope for too much. Then we have to deal with the struggle we are going through, as well as our disappointment about the support we receive.
Here’s a few things we can try when we feel ourselves prescribing the emotional support we want from other people.
Don’t expect other people to offer emotional support like you would
Some people are natural carers, with an empathic understanding of what someone might need when they are struggling. This is not true of everyone. Most of us have some friends who are lovely people but pretty tone-deaf in terms of reading the emotional needs of others.
If you are a good listener and prepared to go out of your way for a friend in need, maybe it’s going to be a challenge when you are the one wanting emotional support. It’s important to remember that a small gesture from another person might be a big offering for them. Just because you might do more, does not mean that they are not trying to be there for you.
Hoping for things from people blocks the emotional support they are actually offering
One of my closest friends has a demanding job and a complicated personal life. One of her ways of coping is to focus on what goes well for her and taking time out from what stresses her. I know she really cares for me, but I get frustrated when my concerns are part of what she wants to avoid. There is a part of her that just cannot stand it when things are tough for me and so for long periods she does not engage.
I can wish she would SKYPE with me and have a good talk, but I know she won’t. If I get stuck there then I miss the small, frequent, small signs from her that she is thinking of me and wishing me well—the text messages, the FB posts, the cards in the mail.
She has her own way of holding me when I am going through something. If I can relax and accept it for what it is, I can feel her emotional support and benefit from it. If I long for what I think she should be offering it’s a different story.
It’s quite an art to be able to accept the help that people offer on their terms, rather than restyling it into something that you think they should be offering.
We are all caught in our own stories
Although each of us is hard wired for kindness and we value and need social connection, we are also focused on getting what we think we need in order to live the life we want.
We have inherited the oldest part of our brain from our reptilian ancestors.This part of our brain is concerned solely with survival—our fight, flight, or freeze responses; our wish to procreate, and how we deal with danger and fear. Any response we make from this part of our brain is instinctive and automatic. The neocortex is the newest part of our brain and is concerned with reason, imagination, and problem-solving. It’s the seat of social skills and compassionate responses. However, it can be hijackedby the old brain and our instincts can take over from our reason.
However, much we want to act with kindness and consideration, we are subject to the overwhelming power of our basic instinct to preserve ourselves. Although our kindness is hard-wired we need to pay attention to it in order to bring it into action—it needs intention and focus. Our self-interest is instinctive.
So, when we look for emotional support from those close to us, we need to remember that, just like us, they are juggling their genuine wish to help and be of benefit with their deep-seated urge to make sure everything is right for them.
The most reliable emotional support comes from our own ability to care for ourselves.
In my experience the best way to care for myself is to maintain a regular practice of meditation. It’s not just my everyday meditation session but bringing the attitude of meditation into my everyday life.
Here are some of the things I notice that meditation helps me with:
- I find I am less judgemental of myself of and other people, which is incredibly relaxing. It is less difficult to avoid beating myself up when I feel down.
- I am able to trust myself and my own insight more deeply and to see what I need to do in order to work with the challenges I am facing.
- I am less impatient about getting what I think I need right then and there
- Even when I am going through something challenging, I feel a greater sense of patience and acceptance that this is just what is happening now.
- It’s more possible to let go of things I think I need from other people
- I have a greater capacity to be grateful for what comes my way and to appreciate the emotional support people offer me when I need it.
Meditation helps me to become more self-reliant but at the same time to see more clearly how much people really do want to offer emotional support and how that is not always easy to do.
This blog first appeared on Maureen’s website https://www.awarenessinaction.org/ which has loads more helpful and thoughtful blog posts on, as well as more details about Maureen, the training and support she offers.
Many thanks to Maureen for her kindly offering it for #365daysofcompassion.
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