Updated: Oct 11, 2022
Lately, I have seen a common theme among clients and even friends and family members. That theme is not feeling validated especially during a challenging event like the death of a loved one.. They feel that the people around them 'just don't get it' even when surrounded by caring people, they feel rejected, ignored, judged, and alone. I honestly think the people around them are genuinely trying to support them in the best way they know how. However, we don't realize the words we use to comfort someone actually cause the person to feel further isolated, misunderstood and unsupported. The exact opposite of what we are trying to do.
An example of this is the story of, a grandparent I support. Her grandchild recently had an addiction relapse after being clean for many years. This grandparent shared how she felt responsible as she raised the grandchild since they were small after their parents were killed in a tragic accident. All her friends said, 'you are not responsible for their actions, they are a grown adult, and it's not your fault.' While this might be true, it made her actually feel worse, that nobody 'get's it' and why bother sharing as they only make me feel worse.
Now, I'm not saying that you have to agree with the facts of what someone is sharing, as it may not be entirely true. But it is an emotion that feels valid within themselves. Like this grandparent, it is not her fault or responsibility that her adult grandchild chose to use drugs again. However, validating her feelings instead of correcting her thinking could have helped her feel understood and supported. If I reflect on my own life as a parent and grandparent, I can totally understand feeling responsible for my children's actions. You know the "I should have... if I only ..." You know those thoughts. Is it true? No, but I can understand where that feeling came from. So why not validate those feelings and allow them to feel heard?
By definition, validation is "the act of affirming a person, or their ideas, feelings, actions, etc., as acceptable and worthy." Emotional validation involves understanding and showing acceptance for another person's feelings. This grandparent's feelings are acceptable; her feelings are worthy of being validated. So instead of correcting this grandparent's; I call it stinking thinking; acknowledging her feelings and saying instead, 'I can understand how you could feel like that. I'm hearing you feel responsible for their relapse. Would you like to tell me more'? OR 'I don't understand how you feel that way can you explain it to me". Just this simple change in language can help someone feel heard, less isolated and surrounded by someone who cares and is open to understanding how they feel. It takes practice and awareness but is a monumental step in supporting those around us in a more compassionate and empathetic way.
"Be the change you wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi