456 Comfort and Control

Research by Tian, Xi; Solomon, Denise Haunani; & Brisini, Kellie St.Cyr (2020). How the Comforting Process Fails: Psychological Reactance to Support Messages. Journal of Communication,70(1), 13–34. https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqz040

Written by Robin N. Fatovic M.S.

How do you like others to comfort you when you feel down?

Communication researchers studied 325 married adults on how to express support. These adults considered a disagreement with their partners. The researchers asked them to evaluate hypothetical messages of support and pretend they were from a loved one.

Results? Though seeking support, the participants wanted to feel a sense of personal control in the situation. They were less likely to accept support from a loved one who gave advice on what the person should do, failed to discuss facts of the situation, or justified it. When the participants felt that the messages tried to persuade them, they developed a negative reaction toward the hypothetically supportive person. Because the tone of the messages appeared dominant, rather than comforting, the messages threatened their desire to have some control in the situation. Instead, participants felt more supported by a loved one who respected and accepted their emotions.

When attempting to comfort someone, instead of trying to problem-solve, acknowledge how the person is feeling, even if it is uncomfortable. Help that person feel heard, loved, accepted, and empowered!

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