Emotional support > problem solving?


Continuing the discussion from Meyer-Briggs Personality Test:

Taking that quiz one of the questions popped out at me.

If your friend is sad about something, you are more likely to offer emotional support than suggest ways to deal with the problem.

It made me laugh because I’ve had this conversation with @susan multiple times, where when I hear a problem I immediately start working out a solution, rather than, um, not doing that.

Another way of saying this is: my first thought reading that is, “how is dealing with the problem not emotional support?”

How do I not do that? How do I just listen? It feels inauthentic if I intentionally do not try to solve the underlying issue, but from my research (and that one episode of Parks and Rec where Chris learns to listen to Ann instead of offering answers), it seems like some folks want to just be listened to. Has anyone in my situation learned this new skill set?


I have a really hard time with this too. It feels like I don’t care if I’m not trying to help people solve their problem. That said, in the last year or so I have been trying to just listen and offer up cues like “I’m so sorry, that sounds horrible.” etc to let the other person know I am listening and processing it all.

I’m actually doing it in a lot of areas, like at work. If there is a problem I won’t immediately jump in with my solution, but wait and see if others talk about it. Often now I never share my idea unless it’s really needed.

In both cases, an unexpected side effect is I have more mental energy for me. It’s hard for me to describe, but it’s like I can process my own issues a little better. Probably it’s the reduction of that “I must solve all the problems!” stress.


Well the benefit of more energy is obviously awesome, as well as knowing one is accomadating their peeps.

Let me ask, does saying things like that feel fake? When I do it I often feel like they know I am just saying that to sound supportive.

Listen, I read back what I write, so I know how that sounds: I apparently don’t think such flowery words do anything, and they certainly don’t help me. I want the other person to know that I am really paying attention and working on it, because why else would they open up to me? And in return, why else would I open up to another person if I didn’t need explicit help? So my feelings of “inauthenticity” is derived from my own abandonment issues, and not doing “casual” worry-bonding like a lot/most of the people around me.

Well, that is what I always assume, but maybe it comes from working in a problem-solving heavy field. Whatcha think?


It does feel fake to me, but based on my experiences with it, it seems to be what is actually the most supportive thing I can do.

OOhh! That is a great observation. My mind is experiencing explosion gifs.

That’s exactly what it is! My impulse is to troubleshoot! Which is because I want to help and that seems like the best way, for me, to do so. But to others not in the field, it probably seems like I think they’re not intelligent. To me, I’m running down a list to come up with maybe the core issues, where they just hear me asking them if they did X or did Y happen, like I don’t think they can handle anything.

Hmm I need to think on it more, but when I see it in that light, it’s kind of annoying.

I need some sort of acceptable cue to know that they want ‘tech support’ on their problem.


I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I do understand the desire to solve the problem as seeming like the only authentic display of help. So why do I also really heavily identify with the (often female-coded, in our society) feeling of “dammit, shut up, you’re not listening to me” when someone tries solving my problem? I think it’s because if I’m upset about something and want to talk about it, I haven’t gotten to all the details and nuances yet and if my friend jumps in and offers a solution, it might be one I already thought of but dismissed because of a part of the story I haven’t gotten to yet, or I might be insulted that they didn’t think I already thought of that, or I’m just … not finished feeling, I guess. I think that when I’m in that space, I want to process my feelings for a while, and I’m not quite ready to work on the tangible steps towards resolution yet. I’ve gotten into really bad fights about this with ex-boyfriends (again with the male-female stereotypes) because they want to skip the emotional processing part and go straight to the problem-solving part. They didn’t derive value from the part where I thought a lot about how I got here and why I feel these things and why I react the way I do and what other situations it reminds me of. I derive value from it because when I AM ready to take tangible action, then I feel more prepared and equipped with my past learnings and I feel like it will be more efficient.

This very concept has caused me a lot of painful fights. I see it, ultimately, as a yes-and kind of thing. There has to be balance: I do see that I have my own failing of “wallowing” (as exes would yell at me) in emotions and they thought that I didn’t take enough actions to save myself or better my own situation. But I think it’s okay to feel things for a while before moving on to actions. Sometimes I just want to be heard. I need a lot of validation. I need some “yes, I see that you are feeling pain,” and the unfortunate thing is that without that, jumping into solutions sounds like “let me suggest how you can stop feeling that pain! or worse, this is how you’re wrong to feel that pain in the first place!” Though I do understand that both parties actually want the same thing, which is the cessation of pain, I think when I’m there, I know intuitively that I can’t simply switch the pain off even if I DO implement all these wonderful actions. I’ll implement them and still have the pain. So I have to get to a place where I understand my own pain enough to be able to stop it. It’s the “but we both want the same thing” part that always gets me, and then I am accused of wanting to stay hurt forever and everyone should just never do anything nice to me because I seem intent on being hurt by everything. I do want to stop hurting; I just need a different process than one that seems obvious to my antagonist at that moment.

I really liked this brene brown talk about this, animated with nice animals. YouTube

four qualities of empathy (teresa wiesman?)

  1. perspective-taking: the ability to take the perspective of another person or recognize their perspective as their truth
  2. staying out of judgement: not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do lol
  3. recognizing emotion in other people
  4. communicating that.
    feeling with people.


I am convinced from discussing this here and afk that genders are socialized to process emotional stress differently, so it makes sense to me that we would have stereotypes for this.

I also think there are other elements to this, such as how we individually see the world. I am wired to be disappointed and let down by people, so I compensate by trying to be useful to others, and just listening doesn’t seem useful. And that observation is just what I am consciously aware of! Imagine what kind of weird karmic cage I hold myself to subconsciously in my interactions…

I do know that I get in these mental prisons, where I am kinda functioning day to day, and I don’t think people can tell my mind is a frozen scream, trying to break loops of dread and despair. But then I get a bit too overwhelmed and try to be responsible and let @susan know that I may be having a breakdown, but then it turns out all I really needed to do was talk about how my haircut is an analogy for what I’ve done with my life, but only as far as it corresponds to geopolitical conflict affecting the future of our child, and that is the reason I can’t blog anymore, unless I learn a new skill and feel like I am not an impostor, enough to get a haircut.

I can neither confirm nor deny that was a conversation we had two nights ago. But if it had, then it would be an example of how talking with less problem-solving and more listening was personally very helpful. And knowing that personally allows me a little more leeway in feeling authentic while reacting to others.