When Someone’s Upset What Can You Do That Helps
Have you ever offered help when someone’s upset and irritated them? What is help anyway? I admit that I don’t want people to tell me what to think or how to feel when I’m upset. If irritation is what you get when you offer answers to loved ones in pain, this may be the reason. Only they can tell you what they need. I read an article about this in the NYTimes a few days ago, and it reminded me of all the times I hated getting advice when feeling bad.
Comfort can be so difficult to provide when someone’s upset because there are so many reasons for feeling overwhelmed. Upset can be anything. It can be the result of a car accident, or a slight at school or work. It can be a small failure or a huge one. There are a millions reasons we get overwhelmed and upset. Being late for a flight and stuck in traffic. That fight or flight response is a shot of adrenalin that can’t be assauged by someone telling you: “Relax, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Who can relax when they’re upset? No one ever. “Think about something else,” is a suggestion that is guaranteed to annoy. Or even worse. “Here’s what you have to do.” The thing is. When you’re upset, the feeling is real and needs validating, not erasing. Most feelings can’t be swept under the rug or explained away. They have ripples.
Here’s What To Say
“Do you want to be helped, heard or hugged.” I loved this question, which comes from the following from the NY Times.
Each option — an embrace, thoughtful but solicited advice or an empathetic ear — has the power to comfort and calm. Receiving a hug from your partner increases levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and helps dial down stress. There’s evidence that being heard, known as “high-quality listening,” can reduce defensiveness during difficult and intimate conversations. And some research suggests that couples who give each other supportive advice have higher relationship satisfaction.
But different emotions require different responses, said Dr. Elizabeth Easton, the director of psychotherapy at Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center in Denver. “So one response, like reassurance, may work well for anxiety but may further infuriate someone who is frustrated,” she said.
Your preferred style may be incompatible with your partner’s, said Jada Jackson, a licensed mental health counselor in Dallas. “When I’m working with my couples, I will say to them, ‘Listen, don’t assume that because you want a hug, or to fix things, that your partner is going to want the same.”
Even in her own marriage, Dr. Jackson said, “I tell my husband, ‘Don’t try to fix it all the time.’ Sometimes I just want to vent.”
Problem-solvers might try to repair things for their own satisfaction, she added, “not necessarily because they want the other person to feel better.” (A 2018 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that giving advice can enhance the adviser’s “sense of power.”) And unsolicited feedback can add another layer of tension, Dr. Jackson said.
Someone who is upset may already be aware of solutions, said Frank Castro, a clinical psychologist in New York and California, “but they just may want to sit with feeling frustrated or disappointed before they move on to problem-solving,” he said.
Or you may move in for a reassuring hug, “but your partner is like a prickly cactus,” Dr. Castro said, and is not in the mood to be touched.
Finding out whether your loved one wants to be helped, heard or hugged “is really asking, ‘How can I meet your needs?’” Dr. Jackson said.
By posing the question, you’re not making assumptions, Dr. Castro explained. “You’re asking permission — and also being very intentional — which is a sign of empathy.”Jancee Dunn NY Times