How to Support Someone who is Struggling

By RJ Manradgh, LPC, NCC, CPCS | June 19, 2023

Supporting someone who is struggling is no easy task. Both being mindful of what they need and how to best communicate with them are critical to this process. Our natural inclination when someone close to us (whether it be a friend, close loved one, or your own adolescent) expresses an emotion may be to problem solve because we think that it will make it better. In this guide, we will be reviewing the different levels of validation, which can first be utilized before any problem solving takes place. Validation at its core is hearing someone else’s truth whether or not we may agree with their perception of a situation. Validation can also help grow a relationship, as it allows the other individual to feel that someone else is attune to their emotional experience. It is especially important to keep this in mind if the other individual experiences mental health challenges and/or has a history of feeling invalidated.

Level 1- Pay Attention- It is of utmost importance that the individual you are supporting knows that you are listening to them. Avoid multitasking when discussing an important topic. You can show interest with both verbal and non-verbal cues (eye contact, head nodding, asking questions). Make the other person feel as though they are the priority with these cues.

Level 2- Reflect Back- When your friend or loved one expresses how they feel about a situation, make sure to repeat back what you heard them say. Ask them for clarification (did I hear you correctly? what I heard you say is. . . ). Keep in mind that you do not have to agree with what they are saying. Your intention is to make sure that your struggling loved one is heard.

Level 3- Read Minds- In order to build on the validation, it is important to pay special attention on your loved one’s body language as well as what they may or may not be saying. Always try to read minds with a question instead of a statement. Instead of saying, “you are really mad” ask gently “I see you crying, I wonder if you might be angry about what happened today?”

Level 4- Understand- Once you’ve been able to master the first three levels, it’s important to make that person know that you are making sense of their emotions. “It makes sense that you would be sad about this situation, because. . . .” If this is someone that you know well, you may be able to understand why their emotion in this situation makes sense based off of what they have been through in the past or even what is currently happening.

Level 5- Acknowledge the Valid- Make sure to keep in mind the importance of searching for the logic in what the other person is saying and have them understand that you can see how their response fits the current facts.

Level 6- Show Equality- This is a very powerful level of validation. When using this level, make sure that you communicate to the other person that you believe them and their experience of the situation with which they are struggling. Make sure to treat them with respect and don’t try to ‘one-up’ or ‘one-down’ them.

Ultimately, using these levels of validation does require practice and effort. At the same time, it can make a huge difference in supporting your loved ones. Opening up about a struggle can be scary. Validation can be that integral step to help the person grow and feel more capable to opening up about being vulnerable about their struggles.

Author

  • RJ Manradgh, LPC, NCC, CPCS

    Hillside Therapist - RJ is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing as a therapist for five years with children and teens. RJ has a wide range of work experience, including residential, partial hospitalization, in home and private practice for 3 years. RJ is skilled at treating suicidal behavior/thoughts, anxiety, depression, self harm behaviors, PTSD, behavioral issues, and interpersonal conflicts. RJ was intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy at the Foundation Training in January of 2018 in Hilton Head, SC with Shari Manning, Ph.D and Elizabeth LoTempio, Psy.D through Treatment Implementation Collaborative. In addition, RJ was intensively trained in DBT-PTSD to treat Complex PTSD in Santa Monica, CA with Martin Bonus, MD in February 2020.