Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.
Jill Bolte Taylor
I would like to say this has only happened once or twice, but no; I am guilty of emotionally invalidating the people I love. In case you don’t know how bad that is, let me explain.
We humans love to be heard and understood. Even when we are in a bad place…especially when we are in a bad place. I get it. It is validating.
When someone listens to how I feel, to what I am experiencing without judgment – with a few words like, “Oh, I am sorry, that must feel like someone kicked you in the gut,” or “I can certainly understand how that would hurt,” it feels like sitting in a warm bath.
Yes, I know how important emotional validation is, but…I can’t stand to see my loved ones in pain. Often, I want to fix it as soon as possible. I want to give advice, problem-solve, show them a way out of their darkness even when they have not asked for my help. Invalidating.
That’s a problem. It’s crossing a boundary, it keeps others helpless, it ruins relationships even when it comes from a desire for their well-being. It can be a one-up, I know best sort of manipulative play.
What I am working on is being better at sitting with someone when they are suffering. Letting them express their feelings, holding them with care, concern, and love. Sometimes, that is all that is wanted – just a chance to be seen, heard, understood.
Why I have become more committed to validation is that it helps us validate ourselves, to see ourselves and hold ourselves with kindness. It opens the door to self-compassion which…strangely enough, helps us do just about everything better and that's good for us all.
Recently, my husband was called by an acquaintance. The story goes something like this. The person wanted to meet with John but didn’t explain why. At the meeting John patiently listened to rather superficial conversation until the person got to the place of exposing his woundedness.
Now to me what the man was wounded about was kinda nutty. A very small thing. I am afraid I might have tried to explain it way or rolled my eyes. Invalidation.
Luckily, I wasn’t there. Instead, my husband, John, did the perfect thing. He listened carefully with interest. He successfully took a stab at trying to understand what feelings might be popping up for his acquaintance. John sat with him, kindly listening as he processed the difficult feelings. The man started the journey from feeling isolated toward embracing his woundedness... in common with all humanity.
Eventually after the wounds were gently exposed and processed, the man seemed open to forgiving the slight, to letting go of his long-held grudge.
We can be there for acquaintances, for friends, family, even for ourselves if we get a little better at noticing our feelings (and thoughts), acknowledging them, not judging them, holding them with understanding, tender curiosity, care, and concern. We can move toward both compassion for others and for ourselves.
AND, when feelings and thoughts are satisfactorily-processed, the door is often opened for problem-solving.
(The funniest video on emotional invalidation and problem-solving gone wrong is one I watch at least 4 times a year – It’s Not About The Nail on youtube. One minute and 41 seconds says it all, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg)
How might we journey to the good life by practicing emotional validation and restraining our unsolicited advice?