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Do-able Requests for Empathy and Emotional Support

When you really need empathy and emotional support, it's often the most difficult moment to formulate a request for help.  You likely find yourself turning to helping professionals or especially attuned friends who can meet these needs without you asking or knowing how to ask.
Unfortunately helping professionals are expensive and highly attuned friends are all too rare.  Thus, it's useful to teach yourself about making these requests clearly, especially when you are not in the midst of difficulty.
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to teach yourself to make clear specific requests is to notice when your needs are being met.  Those times when you walk from an interaction and have a sense of healing or being heard deeply, are the moments to reflect on closely.  In your reflection you might ask yourself the following:

  • What did the other say that really touched me?
  • What needs were met?
  • Was there something special about how he or she held the physical space between us or offered affection?
  • Was there something unusual in this interaction that I haven't experienced before?
  • What was I doing that helped me receive empathy and healing?
    • Was I relaxing my body in a certain way?
    • Was I affirming what I heard out loud or in my own heart?
    • Was I maintaining eye contact?
    • Was I releasing into the hug that was offered?
Here is an example.  Last week we held a funeral for the unexpected death of our spiritual leader.  I was struggling with my own grief in addition to helping to facilitate the smooth flow of set up and ceremony.  At the entrance to the funeral hall where I was standing, a woman who I don't see often but have had a warm connection with over the years reached out and took me into her strong embrace.  As she held me, she took in a long slow breath and let out a long slow exhale.  Her body moved in rhythm with her breath.  She continued to embrace me.  During the second breath, I started to become aware of the tension I was holding in my body.  My body was rigid and unmoving compared to hers.  She continued to embrace me.  In the third breath, my shoulders began to relax.  She continued to embrace me.  In the fourth breath, my whole body and breath spontaneously relaxed and moved in rhythm with hers.  She then released me, looked into my eyes with a steady compassionate gaze and proceeded into the funeral hall.
Tears come to my eyes as I write this, even the memory of her gift opens my heart.  In that interaction that lasted less than two minutes, she met my need for empathy, healing, love, and support. 
In reflecting on this experience, I pull out the following for future requests and offerings to others:
  • She didn't ask me verbally if she could offer her gift, she trusted her own attunement to me and my needs.  This gives me more courage to trust my own intuitions in offering support to others.
  • The strength and pressure of her embrace was exactly right, firm enough to make a clear connection, loose enough to give my body space to relax.  Remembering this I can ask for an embrace that feels just right, "Can you hold me a little tighter?  Or Can you loosen a little?"
  • Remembering that she used breath to bring us together and transmit support, I can make this request:  "Would you be willing to give me a hug and take three breaths together?"
  • She released her embrace only after we fell into rhythm with each other.  With someone close to me, I might make this request, "Can we embrace until we each feel a sense melting into each other?"
  • She didn't offer any words just a steady compassionate gaze.  Remembering this, I can formulate this request in the future,  "Just looking into my eyes in silence and feeling what you feel, meets my need for empathy.  Can we do this for a minute?"
Powerful interactions like these contain a wealth of wisdom.  It's up to you to turn your full attention toward them, glean the wisdom, and then find ways to continuously remind yourself of the new options available to you.
Take a moment now and bring a powerful interaction to heart and mind.  Go through the reflection questions above or reflect in your own way.  In concrete and specific terms name all the subtle things that happened that met needs.

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