Do You Know Your Support Language?
Finding and giving support is a two-way street, says psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed. Often, Freed finds that it’s not that people are lacking support from one another—it’s that people don’t know how to communicate the kind of support they truly want to receive. Even with the best intentions, when we assume that 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 a lot like our love languages, are nuanced, says Freed, and it’s important we remove the guesswork from figuring out the best ways to support one another. In identifying our own support language (which Freed walks us through 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 fell 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 matters to them, and there is nothing more satisfying than having your support be well received,” she explains.
What Is Your Support Language?
By Jennifer Freed, PhD
We all need support more than ever, yet it isn’t always clear to us or to others what true support looks or feels like. We can learn about our love languages and the love languages of others through self-help books and articles, but this doesn’t quite cover the depth and breadth of the ways we can truly support one another as friends, family, work colleagues, or lovers.
I’ve asked dozens of clients to share about how they feel most supported by others. In talking with folks about their support language, I saw that most people hadn’t thought deeply about it. They certainly had not communicated those needs to their closest crew, and they did not exactly know what their crew needed to feel supported by them.
To help them identify their support language, I had them consider when they felt unsupported. They shared that they felt most unsupported when:
Someone minimizes my feelings
Someone interrupts repeatedly while I am speaking
I am unfairly judged or harshly criticized
People seem checked out while I am talking
People doubt, undermine, or compare themselves to me
When people gossip and belittle others (because I know if they’re doing it to others, they’re probably doing 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 acknowledge me
From this list, it seems clear that what people want most is to be understood and encouraged. Seems simple enough, right? Yet this is where it gets most interesting, because each of us has a very specific map of what we experience as support. One size does not fit all.
The four elements—fire, earth, air, and water—turn out to be wonderful ways to understand differing needs for support. Through examining these four matrices and recognizing yourself there, you can start to be clearer about what your support language is and how to explain it to others. You can also have your close crew examine them and share with you how they most like to be supported.
Fire: Support is expressed through action and bold demonstrations
Show me instead of telling me. Bring me food, flowers, and gift certificates for experiences. When Aly’s mom died, she had no bandwidth to talk to folks. Some people brought meals and flowers without needing any conversation, and that’s what felt most supportive to her.
Show up when you say you will. Be someone I know will literally be there for me—at the time we’ve agreed upon in advance. Kim feels truly supported when she can absolutely count on folks to show up and not to change plans at the last moment.
Be truthful with me. When it comes to your authentic feelings, I want you to share honestly and thoughtfully. Leah experiences support when she knows what is being shared is genuine and not just people-pleasing. You will tell me when I have egg on my face literally and figuratively.
Celebrate me with enthusiasm and special rituals. Acknowledge my accomplishments. Kalpana feels most supported when her close ones mark her successes with real joy and fanfare.
Earth: Support is expressed through consistent effort
Do the chores—both small and big—without being asked or needing to be cheered on. Pippa feels thrilled when folks just do what’s needed to maintain the space they share without needing praise for doing their part.
Give me thoughtfully selected gifts and supplies. Notice what you might give me that will best support my endeavors. Sean, in the thick of starting his own small business, feels most supported when folks gift him items he needs to get that business up and running.
Be calm, patient, and accepting when I need to vent or work through problems. For Jake, it’s vital to be able to rely on close folks to be calm, safe listeners who can hear all the difficult problems he shares about without trying to fix any of them.
Be dependable and consistent with your affections and actions. Ren says that it matters most to her when loved ones act affectionately in words and deeds on a daily basis instead of making occasional grand and showy exhibitions.
Air: Support is expressed through communication
Speak words of affirmation and acknowledgment to me on a regular basis. It helps Mary tremendously when her euphoric plans and visions are met with positive reinforcement and excitement.
Be actively curious and interested in my beliefs, thoughts, and ideas. Ask me great follow-up questions. Emerson feels most supported when someone shows active interest in his ideas and intellectual pursuits.
When I am upset, please take deep breaths with me to help me recenter. For Ray, breathing is the best way to reset; having someone breathe slowly and deeply with her is truly centering.
Be willing to disagree with me in a respectful way. Always look for what we have in common. Barbara loves agreement, and when genuine disagreement exists, she feels most supported when both parties deeply desire to understand the other’s differing viewpoint.
Water: Support is expressed through genuine feeling
Be a safe container for me to share my deep feelings and sensitivities. Recognize that I have big emotions that sometimes feel overwhelming to me. Suzu feels most supported when someone can lovingly sit and hold her through her big feelings. She feels best when someone can stay with her without merging into her pain.
Treat my issues with empathy and compassion. Validate my concerns. Alicia feels supported when someone shows patience and acceptance for what she is going through. Feelings can be processed much more easily when they are seen as valid no matter what.
Be present and attentive when you are with me. Make me the priority when we are together. Bree feels supported when someone is completely present with her through both eye contact and attentiveness. This is when devices are out of reach and there is nothing in the world more important than this conversation.
Trust that I will be okay even when I am in a dark place. Give me space. Caryn needs never to be pushed into sharing before she is ready. People who give her space and demonstrate faith in her process feel most supportive to her. Some of us need to go deep within before we can come out with our hearts open. Don’t push at the heart gates, please!
Imagine for a moment if everyone in your social sphere understood your support needs and had a realistic idea of what most sustains you.
We might assume that if someone loves us, they’ll know what we need. Or we might assume that others want to be supported in the same way we do. Both these assumptions miss the mark in subtle and profound ways.
For example: In my relationship, I experience support when my partner gives me consistent words of encouragement and is fascinated by my creative ideas; my support profile falls mostly within the element of air. My partner experiences support when I do lots of chores without any nudging or need for acknowledgment—an earthy kind of support. When we both remember to prioritize these support needs, we feel buoyed and loved.
At work, my support needs are different. I experience support when people are direct with me with their needs, desires, and appreciation. Two of my colleagues feel most supported by vocal and consistent acknowledgment of their efforts. It’s not hard to support someone when you know what matters to them, and there is nothing more satisfying than having your support be 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 mind-read, we can have clear communication about what effective support looks like for us and for others, and we become much more effective at holding and caring for one another.
Jennifer Freed, PhD, is a consultant, a workshop leader, and an author with more than thirty years of experience in the fields of psychological astrology and social-emotional learning. Freed serves as a consultant for the app Co-Star and is the author of Use Your Planets Wisely: Master Your Cosmic Potential with Psychological Astrology.
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