Finding and giving support is a two-way street, says psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed. Freed often finds that it’s not that people don’t lack support for each other – but that people don’t know how to communicate the kind of support they really want to get. Even with the best of intentions, when we assume people automatically know what we need or, worse, when we think everyone wants to be supported in the same way, we can miss the mark.
Our support languages, which are very similar to our love languages, are nuanced, says Freed, and it is important to remove speculation from finding the best ways to support each other. In identifying our own language of support (through which Freed leads us below), we can also learn how others like to be supported. Freed asked her clients to share how they feel most supported by others and found that most people fall into one of four categories, which can be described using the elements of fire, earth, air and water. “It’s not hard to support someone when you know what’s important to them and there’s nothing more satisfying than having your support well received,” she explains.
What is your support language?
Dr. Jennifer Freed
We all need support more than ever, but it is not always clear to us or others what true support looks or feels like. We can learn about our love languages and the love languages of others through books and self-help articles, but this does not fully cover the depth and breadth of ways we can truly support each other as friends, family, co-workers or lovers.
I asked dozens of clients to share how they feel most supported by others. In talking to people about their language of support, I saw that most people didn’t think deeply about it. They certainly did not convey those needs to their closest crew and did not know exactly what their crew needed to feel supported by them.
To help them recognize the language of support, I asked them to consider when they feel without support. They shared that they supported each other the most when:
Someone is downplaying my feelings
Someone constantly interrupts me as I speak
I am unjustly condemned or sharply criticized
People seem to be logged out as I speak
People doubt, undermine or compare themselves to me
When people gossip and belittle others (because I know if they do it to others, they probably do it to me too)
When people talk behind my back
When people don’t let me know what they want or need from me
When people don’t recognize me
From this list, it seems clear that what people want most is to understand and encourage. It looks simple enough, doesn’t it? However, this is where it becomes most interesting, because each of us has a very specific map of what we experience as support. One size does not suit everyone.
The four elements – fire, earth, air and water – have been shown to be wonderful ways to understand different support needs. By examining these four matrices and recognizing yourself there, you can begin to be clearer about what your language of support is and how to explain it to others. You can also ask your close crew to review them and share with you how much they like to support them.
Fire: Support is expressed through action and courageous demonstrations
Show me instead of telling me. Bring me food, flowers and gift certificates for experiences.
When Aly’s mother died, she didn’t have the capacity to talk to people. Some people brought meals and flowers without any conversation, and that was what helped her the most.
Show up when you say you will. Be someone I know will literally be there for me – at a time when we have agreed in advance.
Kim feels genuinely supported when she can absolutely count on people to show up and not change their plans at the last minute.
Be honest with me. As for your authentic feelings, I want you to share them honestly and thoughtfully.
Leah experiences support when she knows that what is being shared is true and not just loves people. You will tell me when I have an egg on my face literally and figuratively.
Celebrate me with enthusiasm and special rituals. Acknowledge my achievements.
Kalpana feels most supported when her loved ones successfully mark her successes and pomp.
Country: Support is expressed through consistent efforts
Perform small and large tasks without anyone asking you and you don’t need to cheer for them.
Pippa feels thrilled when people do just what it takes to maintain the space they share without needing praise for doing their part.
Give me thoughtfully selected gifts and supplies. Notice what you could give me, which will best support my efforts.
Sean, in the middle of starting his own small business, feels the most support when people give him the items he needs to start that business.
Be calm, patient and acceptable when I need to vent or solve problems.
It is vital for Jake to be able to rely on close people to be calm, confident listeners who can hear all the difficult issues he shares about without trying to fix them either.
Be trustworthy and consistent with your preferences and actions.
Ren says that the most important thing for her is when loved ones behave kindly every day with words and deeds, instead of occasionally making big and likable exhibitions.
Air: Support is expressed through communication
You regularly tell me words of confirmation and acknowledgment.
It helps Mary immensely when her euphoric plans and visions encounter positive reinforcement and excitement.
Be actively curious and interested in my beliefs, thoughts and ideas. Ask me great additional questions.
Emerson feels most supported when someone shows an active interest in his ideas and intellectual pursuits.
When I am upset, please take a deep breath with you to help me set up again.
For Ray, breathing is the best way to reset; having someone breathe slowly and deeply with her is really centering.
Be prepared to disagree with me in a respectful way. Always look for what we have in common.
Barbara loves agreement, and when there is genuine disagreement, she feels most repressed when both sides deeply want to understand the different views of the other.
Water: Support is expressed with true feeling
Be a safe container for me to share my deep feelings and sensibilities. Recognize that I have great emotions that sometimes seem irresistible to me.
Suzu feels most supported when someone can lovingly sit her down and hold her through her great feelings. She feels best when someone can stay with her without merging with her pain.
Treat my problems with empathy and compassion. Acknowledge my concern.
Alicia feels supported when someone shows patience and acceptance of what she is going through. Feelings can be processed much more easily when they are considered valid no matter what.
Be present and careful when you are with me. Make it a priority for me when we are together.
Bree feels supported when someone is fully present with her and eye contact and attention. This is when devices are unavailable and there is nothing more important in the world than this conversation.
Believe me I will be fine even when I am in a dark place. Give me space.
Caryn should never be pushed into sharing before she’s ready. People who give her space and show faith in her process feel like they support her. Some of us have to go deep inside before we come out with an open heart. Don’t push the door of the heart, please!
Imagine for a second if everyone in your social sphere understood your needs for support and had a realistic idea of what supported you the most.
We might assume that if someone loves us, they will know what we need. Or we might assume that others want to be supported in the same way as we do. Both of these assumptions miss the assessment in a subtle and profound way.
For example: In my relationship, I experience support when my partner gives me consistent words of encouragement and fascination with my creative ideas; my support profile mostly belongs to the air element. My partner experiences support when I do a lot of work without any push or need for recognition – an earthly kind of support. When we both remember to prioritize those support needs, we feel encouraged and loved.
At work, my support needs are different. I experience support when people are directly with me regarding their needs, desires and appreciation. Two of my colleagues feel the most supported loud and consistent acknowledgment of their efforts. It is not difficult to support someone when you know what is important to them and there is nothing more satisfying than having your support well received.
None of us should be tasked with knowing how to support another unless that person has told us what they need. When we remove the pressure to guess or read minds, we can have clear communication about how effective support looks to both us and others and we become much more effective in holding and caring for each other.
Jennifer Freed, Ph.D., is a counselor, workshop leader, and author with more than thirty years of experience in the fields of psychological astrology and socio-emotional learning. Freed is a consultant for the Co-Star app and is the author Use your planets wisely: master your cosmic potential with psychological astrology.
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