You’re having a seemingly normal conversation with your friend or loved one, and suddenly the topic turns to how they feel disrespected, unloved, or unimportant in the relationship. That’s right, they’ve confronted you with their unmet emotional needs. Caught off guard, you respond with anger, resistance, or maybe just silence. Many of us have been in that situation, but that doesn’t mean our initial reactions are the best ones. Here are some practical tips for appropriately responding to the emotional needs of others.
The Importance of Emotional Responding
We all have core needs for which we seek fulfillment. Take a moment to reflect on your own deepest needs for safety, belonging, love, respect, and understanding. These types of needs are profoundly impactful to the human experience and play a significant role in finding meaning in life. Sharing these needs with others is an extraordinarily vulnerable task that can be met with more heartbreak and disconnect when the listener reacts negatively. Though perhaps well-meaning, attempts at connection can backfire when misplaced advice, criticism, or self-reflection are presented as solutions. In order to move toward deeper connection, it is important to engage emotional needs with compassion and consideration.
Responding Versus Reacting
In order to properly engage the needs of our loved ones, it is important to understand the difference between reacting and responding. Responding can be understood as voicing favorable feedback to a person or situation. Reaction, however, is best defined as expressing opposition to a person, force, or influence. While reacting is a perfectly normal human behavior, our reactions are typically emotionally charged and often create a barrier to effective communication. Responses are the result of careful consideration and often foster care and respect for those on the receiving end. When considering how to handle the emotions of others, it is important to practice thoughtful responding versus quick reacting.
Methods of Responding
What is the proper way to respond during an emotionally charged situation? Dr. Elaine Shpungin recommends using the PEN method when engaging in difficult conversations. The PEN methods consists of three essential communication principles: Pause, Empathy, and Needs.
- Pause – Rather than saying the first thing that comes to your mind, pause to take a deep breath.
- Empathy – Let the other person know you feel with them in the moment by identifying the values and needs they express.
- Needs – Once the other person feels heard, share your hopes with them to create a deep connection.
By applying these principles, you can create an authentic communication space while navigating challenging emotions. Though these techniques are not always easy to practice, they are essential to fostering positive connections that meet the needs of both you and your loved one.
Take the Next Step
Do you often find yourself responding with excessive anger or verbal attacks when emotional needs are expressed? If so, it might be time for you to seek additional help. LifeStance Health can help you manage your anger reactions and engage in healthy communication by exploring your triggers and setting goals. If you are ready to take the next step toward positive connection with others, contact us to explore your options.