Emotional Support: Definition, Examples, and Theories
What is emotional support and why you might want to learn how to give and receive emotional support? Discover how to build an emotional support system here.
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Many comedy shows depict emotional support as a group of friends hanging out together and chatting. In Friends, they were usually at their favorite coffee place. In The Big Bang Theory, they were sitting on a couch in their apartment.
And although they are correct, that’s not everything there is about giving and receiving emotional support. There are many ways or environments emotional support can manifest, and it’s important to know what you want and what works best for you.
What Is Emotional Support? (A Definition)
Emotional support is an intentional verbal and nonverbal way to show care and affection for one another. By providing emotional support to another person, you offer them reassurance, acceptance, encouragement, and caring, making them feel valued and important (Burleson, 2003).
When you directly express affection and concern, when you reassure them that they are loved and important, you may help them cope with upset feelings or challenging situations.
There are many potential places from where we can get emotional support:
When you’re happy, you can share your joys with others. When you’re sad, you can have a shoulder to cry on. Despite the nature of our feelings or whatever happens in our lives, it is reassuring to know that we have people we can count on.
Caring for someone and loving them is not the same thing. We need to learn how to show our love and support so that they can genuinely feel it. To learn this, check out the video below:
What Are the Benefits of Emotional Support?
Emotional support is a crucial part of any healthy relationship, and receiving it makes us feel valued and important. Decades of research has shown that having emotional support in your life has many benefits, including mental health and physical health (Taylor, 2011). Here are some more of these benefits:
You can watch his emotional and inspiring story that became a popular TEDx video below:
Video: Social Support as Cancer Therapy
Is Emotional Support the Same as Social Support?
Not exactly. Social support, a key characteristic of social relationships, is an umbrella term that encompasses four different types of support, including emotional support.
The four types of support are:
All types of support are important for our well-being. However, they play different roles in our lives. Sometimes, you need to have a loving conversation with your close friend about how you have been feeling recently, while sometimes you need to problem-solve with a coach to explore strategies that might make yourself feel better.
You can watch the video below from Khan Academy if you’d like to hear more examples of the different types of social support:
Video: Social Support
How to Emotionally Support Someone
Emotional support can take many shapes and sizes. It is important to understand not only what type of emotional support you can offer but also what type of emotional support the other person wants or needs to receive.
For example, your partner might come home from work very stressed and want to recharge. While he would like to tell you all about his stressful day, you would like to show your emotional support by hugging or kissing instead of listening. So, what should you do?
Although research shows the various benefits of receiving support, it also shows the importance of giving support. Studies have shown that providing support reduces the effect of disability and mortality (Gruenewald et al., 2007) and has a positive effect on blood pressure (Piferi & Lawler, 2006).
Interestingly, those who give more support also get more support. This might happen because people feel better after helping others which improves their health, or because they are in a quality relationship in which they can reciprocate the positive behaviors and feelings (Reblin & Uchino, 2008)
Emotional Support Questionnaires and Scales
Receiving emotional support is an important part of every relationship, whether with your partner, family, or friends, with many benefits for your mental and physical health.
To measure social support, researchers developed The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS), a tool that measures perceived social support from three sources: family, friends, and a special person (Zimet et al., 1988)
MSPSS is a test that has been widely used and well-validated in many cultures and with diverse populations, such as Chinese parents of children with cerebral palsy (Wang et al., 2017).
If you’re curious about the MSPSS or if you’d like to take the test, you can click on the link here.
How to Build an Emotional Support System
Now that you read all about the positive benefits of emotional support, you may wonder how to build a system that works for you.
As the saying goes, it does take a village. It is important to keep in mind that it might take time, but, in the end, the rewards are worth it.
Articles Related to Emotional Support
Want to learn more about how to build emotionally supportive relationships? Here are some more articles to read.
Books Related to Emotional Support
Want to keep learning about emotional support? Check out these books:
Final Thoughts on Emotional Support
Emotional support is an extremely important and beneficial part of high-quality relationships. It can even improve our mental and physical health. So, it’s worth the time to learn how to give and receive emotional support.