“What do you do when a kid is emotionally overwhelmed?” I asked. Many teachers at her school, she told me, ask students a simple question: Do you want to be helped, heard or hugged?
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.
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.
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.”
Toughts & Comments
Ask before you help someone!
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