In these days of economic and health distress, family members from young to old are understandably struggling with anxiety. Grandparents are fearful of getting sick, lonely and isolated. Children are bored and yet overwhelmed with the new demands of schooling at home. Parents are struggling to cover the bills while juggling work changes, income cuts, and children at home all day. While we all worry in unique ways over a myriad of coronavirus disturbances, we all similarly long for some comfort amidst the chaos.
The Journal of Communication recently published an insightful article on the psychological reaction to varying messages of comfort. Apparently, the attempt to comfort a family member can backfire depending on how it is phrased. Responses that oppose or diminish another’s feelings, such as “it’s not that bad” or “cheer up, you have so much to be thankful for,” can actually increase his or her stressed-out emotions.
Instead, researchers discovered that validation was key to offering true comfort. While we might want to shush our loved-ones complaints and fears, it is apparently more effective to encourage him or her to talk through those feelings, share anxieties, and express fears. Avoid disagreeing with or diminishing those emotions, and instead confirm and validate with phrases such as “it sounds like you’re really scared” or “I hear that this is deeply upsetting for you.”
Validating another’s feelings allows them to come to their own conclusions about next steps or resolution. Trying to offer rebuttal or solutions or logic in the face of emotion will almost always backfire. Comfort can come in the form of a hug and a listening ear without trying to solve the issue.
So the next time your child or parent or spouse or friend expresses those coronavirus fears…offer the sincere comfort that comes from validating his or her feelings.
By Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy
Check out the original research: