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Should I Ask Others about Things that May Invoke Their Negative Emotions?

Asked by on with 1 answer:

I want to help someone with depression who is going through some hardships which they don’t seem to like to tell me. I want to help them, but without knowing what exactly they are going through, there’s little I can do.
So I want to ask them about their hardships. But I imagine the act of asking might just invoke their negative thoughts thus making them close up to me. Should I take the risk and ask? If so, how can I ask to minimize the negative emotions?
There is a large possibility that they have already talked to someone else who may be more trusted than me. If that being the case, should I even bother at all, or leave it to the possibility more trusted person? (From China)

Should I Ask Others about Things that May Invoke Their Negative Emotions?

Answered by on -


Your email is a beautiful example of caring and wanting to help another. I am particularly impressed that your question highlights the sensitivity to the needs of this other person. Above all, you are approaching the help this person needs by trying to figure out what they need, not simply what you want to give. This is the most important consideration.

When someone is in a difficult place and is showing signs of depression the depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Disengaged, with a loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Anxiety-related physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Loss of meaning or purpose, feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

While the condition of depression is typically something a mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist or other therapist diagnoses after an evaluation, there is a self-assessment tool here and learn more about depression here that can offer some feedback.

If your friend has not revealed the specifics of what they are upset about it is most likely because they are already doing this with someone else, are ashamed, or are not able to find the words to narrate their feelings. Trying to get someone to talk when they are not ready or unable can backfire. The subtle message is that unless they talk about their feelings with you they will be rejected- or feel as if they are.

Your best approach is to let them know that you care for them, that you sense they are going through a tough time, and that you want to be there for them, but also wanting to respect their privacy and their process. Let them know you can be there to talk or to be a distraction. Talking isn’t the only way to help people feel better. Sometimes just going to a movie, having a cup of tea, or taking a walk together is enough. Sometimes pain just needs to be witnessed by someone who cares for it to dissolve.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Should I Ask Others about Things that May Invoke Their Negative Emotions?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Should I Ask Others about Things that May Invoke Their Negative Emotions?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jan 2020 (Originally: 31 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.