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More Do-able Requests for Empathy and Emotional Support

Last week I offered a process for creating a list of specific do-able requests.  The process was to reflect on and identify all that happens when your needs for empathy and emotional support are met.  Clearly naming all the ways others meet your needs for empathy and emotional support makes the unconscious become conscious, thus giving you more immediate access to this knowledge.  As you engage in the process daily or weekly, you'll likely notice that the things people do to meet these needs for you are not so complex or unusual.  Your list will probably contain some of the following:

  • Offers a sentence or question that reflects an understanding of your experience.  For example,
    • Sounds like you were just overwhelmed?
    • Crazymaking, huh?
    • I'm hearing it's lot to think about all at once.
    • Hard stuff
  • Walks with you in silence, giving you the sense that there is space for you to just be in whatever state you are without having to explain or talk.
  • Expresses something in just a sentence or two that reflects back a core truth about you.  For example,
  • "You've dedicated your life to becoming more clear."
  • "You have this incredible loyalty to your family." 
  • "I can see how hard you work to bring people together for a better environment." 
  • "I really trust your own sense of integrity to guide you in that difficult situation."
  • Sees you working at something and jumps in to help without hesitation.
  • Checks back in with you after a vulnerable conversation to see how you are doing.
  • Gives affection.
  • Gives thoughtful gifts.
  • Anyone would be upset about that.
  • I can watch the kids if you'd like to take a nap, I'm guessing you need it after such a hard day.
  • Of course you're jealous, you've been under stress and you want to be the one going to Hawaii.
  • Some days are just grumpy days, you don't have to cheer up.
  • Affirms your feelings and needs.  For example, says things like:
 
After you make your list of things like this, rewrite each item into a request format, being sure to include the need.  Then turn your attention to a relationship in which you would like to experiment with making a request.
 
Expressing your need and request directly is an unusual and vulnerable thing to do for most people.  So, you might want to make it easier on yourself by practicing in a secure loving relationship first.  This will give you space to fumble around in awkward way, which is an important part of the learning process.
 
When you have gained some confidence in your ability to attune to your needs and make requests, you might want to experiment with more difficult relationships.
 
Family of origin is often the place where you long to have needs for empathy and emotional support met, and sometimes the very place where it is most difficult to get them met.  You might find that family members meet your difficulty with not so connecting responses like; giving you unsolicited advice, saying some version of "I told you so", explaining why you shouldn't feel the way you feel, telling stories about how they were in the same situation, telling you to be grateful for what you have and focus on the bright side, invoking a sense of resignation by expressing some version of "you just have to get through it" or "that's just life, it's not fair." Or "It is what it is."
 
In the face of this kind of response from family, you might feel yourself shutting down or slumping in disappointment.  Your challenge here is to interrupt this kind of response and ask for what you need.  For example, you might interrupt your mom's advice about trying anti-depressants, and ask for what you need like this:  "Hey mom, you know what would feel most supportive? It would be to just hear you say you love me and are sorry that I am having a tough time."
 
Interrupting and making these kind of simple requests again and again with your family will, over time, change the those interactions.  At the very least, you will begin to trust yourself to stay connected to what you need regardless of how your family responds.
 
Practice
If you've already worked on your list of what emotional support and empathy look like, take a moment now to decide in what relationship you would like to be able to make requests.  Then write two or three down and set the intention to try one the next time you are talking with that person.

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