How Do You Prefer to Receive Support?


Your strongest relationships share a lingua franca.

That’s common language, a thread that connects while it fortifies, that understands while it supports. 

We know love languages… we know apology languages… 

But we barely understand support languages. This is a huge impediment to having seamless and loving relationships with our tribes. The moments when we need support are often the moments we’re most in danger of bungling our interactions…

Tensions are high. We’re in a sympathetic and reactive nervous system response. We’re already less able to communicate our truths without burying them in layers of expectation and personal narrative.

Knowing your, and others’, support languages in advance can not only prevent miscommunication catastrophes at the worst possible times…

It can lessen our overall fear of conflict. It can revolutionize how we value our relationships and the people in our lives. It can shift the narrative from I’m not cared for to I’m not being cared for the way I want to be. 

That is not a conflict – it’s a conversation.

Lacking support – the way you need it – can feel lonely. Often, we try to support people the way we would want to be supported. And then, we’re confused when:

  1. That doesn’t seem to be working.
  2. Our loved ones don’t pick up on the example we were trying to set.

The only thing that can help?

Clarity and self-awareness.

A Support Language Dictionary

We need to establish a vocabulary for determining where we fall within the support spectrum.

To begin with, it’s helpful to ask yourself some guiding questions. Unless you’ve spent years dedicated to knowing yourself, it’s likely that you have yet to codify what does and doesn’t feel supportive. You can only know when you’re lacking or sated – but not necessarily why.

In her work with her clients, Jennifer Freed, PhD, asked questions about what doesn’t feel supportive to gain an understanding of the sources of friction.

You could try asking yourself…

  • What makes me feel worse when I’m in crisis?
  • What bursts my bubble when I feel happy?
  • When do I feel like someone isn’t invested in supporting me?
  • What traits do the people I prefer to be supported by have in common?
  • How long do I usually need to calm down about something?
  • What do I know doesn’t help me?
  • What would I ask for if I knew I’d be spared from judgment?

Interviewing yourself should serve to get you better acquainted with your preferred support language. 

We don’t have the lines yet, but we’ve colored shapes onto the page.

Freed also mapped out a support-style archetypes by using the four elements  – earth, wind, fire, and water. 

Let’s try to understand how each type prefers to receive support…

Earth Support – Steady and Consistent

For those who speak this language, reliability is the name of the game.

The ways they prefer to be supported are all about not having to do someone else’s labor (keeping up with your chores without needing to be asked)…

Staying calm and grounded despite their emotions (letting someone vent without absorbing their upset)…

Remaining consistent in shows of affection and thoughtfulness (instead of leaving the person hoping you feel like it)…

Wind Support – Engaged Communication

For a wind (or air) support type, it’s essential that they receive reassurance and verbal confirmation of support. 

Hearing words of affirmation consistently (especially during rough periods, transitions, times of insecurity, OR when they’re excited and optimistic)… 

Getting asked follow-up questions when they share their feelings (to show engagement and curiosity, and confirm that they aren’t being a burden)…

Disagree respectfully and curiously (we can’t expect that we’ll always be agreed with, but showing care and respect helps a wind type feel supported)…

Fire – Action and Boldness

A fire type needs firm and irrefutable evidence of support. They need support to be unignorable and absolutely clear in order to feel shrouded in love and protection.

Show support, don’t tell (let your actions do the talking – for example, when they’re going through a hard time, do for them the things they’re struggling to do for themselves)…

Be impeccable with your word and honest (make sure they know that they can count on you to do what you say you will when you say you will)…

Cheerlead with and for them (celebrate milestones and accomplishments with true enthusiasm)…

Water – Genuine Empathy

For water types, nothing is more supportive than to know the person you’re confiding in knows just how you’re feeling. 

Allow them to be as open and clear with you as they want to be (and share the load of those emotions with them)…

Stay present and available to them when they’re venting (so that they don’t feel like you would rather be doing something other than supporting them)…

Don’t worry harder than they are (they need to know that you know they’ll be okay after they’ve had a chance to feel their big feelings)…

Some people will have things in common with multiple elements. Some may be cut and dried.

But a framework can go a long way towards mitigating damage and actually accomplishing your goal: to make the people you love feel better. 

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