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Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

How do I provide emotional support?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7846 points ) November 20th, 2012

So I’m not the most empathetic person.
I want to be better at it. ‘It’ being comforting people who are going through a tough time, whether it be that they are sick, dying, losing a loved one, losing a job, etc.
If any of you are familiar with the MBTI test, I’m an INTJ, and the T in my personality is extremely strong. I prefer logic over feeling, which does not help the whole empathetic situation.
I want to go into the medical field. I do want to help people and help them get better and healthier, but I’m not good at the emotional support that I know many different aspects of health care providing require you to give.
How do I get better at providing this emotional support?

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12 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

There are plenty of opportunities in the medical profession where you do not have to engage with patients.

My doctor is high-functioning Asperger’s and I have to work a little harder to deal with this. The good thing is that I can be so direct as to be almost rude and he doesn’t mind.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

@gailcalled I mean, I do want to engage with patients. I want to take care of them and make sure they’re comfortable, but it’s just that I have trouble with the very emotional side of it.
I was talking to my sister about becoming a nurse, and we tried to practice. She is very emotional and was giving very realistic scenarios and examples of what people might say and feel. I freeze up and I’m afraid I won’t know how to comfort them.

gailcalled's avatar

@Aesthetic_Mess: I am convinced that we can change things around the edges but not our core personality. It has taken me decades to make my peace with that. So I have no ideas.

Coloma's avatar

I’m an ENTP and am very strong about bringing positive and enthusiastic support to my relationships, but, same here, I am not an overly emotional type, and especially being a female with these traits I am often seen as not empathetic or sensitive enough at times.
The NT temperaments tend to focus more on rational and objective and logical solutions to problems and while we do feel deeply we do not wear our emotions on our sleeves as the more hardcore feeling types do. We are not thin skinned, can handle criticism and confrontation without taking it “personally” and in general have an easier time bouncing back from hardship than many others.
In my case I have developed a stronger sense of compassion and understanding for others emotional ups and downs,via my own emotional challenges over the years, however, I still struggle with “feeling” irritated with those that seem to enjoy wallowing in misery and refute any and all logical and practical solutions to their problems.

I also have a hard time with highly neurotic people that cannot accept that life includes pain and change and challenge and feel personally victimized by the normal experiences we all go through. I am incredibly empathetic towards the under dog, the helpless and innocent, children, animals etc. but less so for humans that have the brains and the tools to do something about their issues but choose to wallow in their emotional pain.
I think you might need to explore the areas you DO feel emotionally sensitive too, perhaps you should become a veterinarian of you feel more empathy for animals than you do people. haha

While we can all work on developing our inferior functions to become more balanced I do not believe in putting ones self down for their hardwired tendencies.
The way I show support is always going to come from a more philosophical and enthusiastic approach.
I may not cry with you and absorb your emotional state but I WILL give you tons of positive and enthusiastic pep talks and show my caring by hopefully giving you a new perspective on what you are experiencing.

PeppermintBiscuit's avatar

I think that most medical students are taught bedside manners as part of their schooling. The most medical training I’ve ever taken was a two-day First Aid course, and even then they taught us the importance of being calm, and to get down to eye level with someone rather than bending over them.
This article was interesting to me. I particularly liked the part about AIDET (Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explain, and Thanks).
I’m not familiar with the MBTI test, but if you find that you can’t summon up sympathy for a frightened patient, I suggest Fake It Til You Make It. That is, if you pretend to be sympathetic until it becomes second nature, you might eventually find yourself actually feeling sympathetic. And even if you don’t, I’m sure your patients would appreciate it.

marinelife's avatar

Practice putting yourself in others’ situations. Think about what you would be feeling in their circumstances.

Talk to them. Ask them what would be supportive to them.

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

@marinelife The whole “in their shoes” method doesn’t seem to work for me. Because I’m not very emotional to begin with, I wouldn’t react like most people…

orlando's avatar

Buddhist philosophy/psychology has a number of practices that enable one to open the heart and by doing so spontaneously experience greater levels of compassion. Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh is a good start.

Coloma's avatar

@orlando Agreed and some of the work I have done over the years, yet, hard wiring of brain functions are, well, hardwired. You can’t completely turn a bulldog into a golden retriever.
Accept what is.lol

wundayatta's avatar

If you can’t imagine what other people are thinking and feeling, then it’s hard to be empathetic. But the first step is actually understanding what you are feeling. Do you recognize your own feelings? Can you name them? Does this question make you feel anything? What?

Once you learn to name your own feelings, you can see how you behave and look when you feel those things. You may have to look in a mirror in order to be able to see how you look when you feel something.

Then you can start to observe others. Generally, when they look how you looked, they will be feeling the same thing you were feeling.

Once you recognize what others are feelings, you can then start to check with them. “You look tired.” “You look angry. Are you angry?” “You look confused. Do you have any questions about what I have been discussing with you?”

The thing is to acknowledge the feeling and then take some appropriate action. In acknowledging the feeling, you are also checking to see if your perception is correct. This can help build a connection with the patient, and lead to improved communications, which is what you want. That leads to better outcomes.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Responding empathetically is a skill that anyone can learn. It does not require you to change who you are, merely how you respond in clinical and other interpersonal settings.

The first step is to improve your listening skills and your ability to recognize key behaviours.

Learning how to make others feel heard is then not that difficult.

… more details on request

lillycoyote's avatar

Just listen, an follow the person’s lead. You very often simply cannot do anything to help. Even the most nurturing and empathetic person can often not do anything to “help.” Don’t feel like you need to try so hard. Just listen and be there. Sometimes that’s all someone needs. And when they want to be left alone, leave them alone. Take your cues from the person you want to support. That would be my advice.

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