If you’ve been a reader for a while you will know I have a personal taboo on “At least” comments. Some of you may have wondered, “If we don’t say that, what DO we say??”. It’s no question that we all have great intentions and genuinely want to respond in a loving, helpful way when someone shares something difficult. You may even be enticed to ask those in your tribe “How are you really?” to open up that door, but hold back because you aren’t completely comfortable with how best to respond when they actually tell you.
I know, despite good intentions, I didn’t get it right in the past. I would unknowingly invalidate their experience and emotions by downplaying what happened (“Maybe she didn’t mean it the way you took it”), by getting them to focus on the positive (admittedly using that dreadful “at least” word), or by giving advice (“You know what you should do..”). If you haven’t read Dr. Wilson’s post on “The Problem with Advice” yet I urge you to do so now. And if you have read it, it’s always nice to refresh. In this post she explains how doing these things (minimizing, focusing on the positive, giving advice, etc) actually sends the message that they shouldn’t trust their strong and healthy self…which leads nowhere good.
So what should we do? Stare at them blankly until they walk away??
One of the simplest, most powerful gifts we can give is VALIDATION.
This is what validation sounds like….“That’s hard.” “No wonder you feel overwhelmed, I would too!” “That must be devastating” “How annoying!” “Ugh I would be mad too! That’s so frustrating!!” “That really sucks.”
Validating someone’s emotion is powerful because it tells the person that they have every right to feel the way they do and it reinforces their connection to their strong and healthy self (“Oh my god I’m really not crazy for feeling this way, it’s a normal reaction to this situation”). We are also sending the message loud and clear that we hear them and we have their backs. They will feel seen, heard, and valued. Who knew we could do all that by saying “That is so much to deal with, no wonder you feel stressed!” – I swear it’s magic.
When I learned about the importance of validation, my first reaction was shock at how simple it was. I doubted it’s power because it just seemed like I’d be pointing out the obvious. However; once I tried it, and noticed how it felt when someone did it to me, I was completely convinced of its magic.
By not understanding the role validation plays in these interactions, I can see how I missed out on being the kind of friend I wanted to be in many past experiences. In most cases when people would tell me something, I did think “Wow, that must be so hard“, I just had no idea it was important to SAY. If this is where you are, remember and repeat this quote as needed.
This stuff isn’t common sense. We can all do our part to strengthen our tribes by sharing the secret of this magical gift.
Validation is one of the keys to empathy. Watch this short video on the difference between sympathy and empathy to see how validation helps with healing.
I implore you to go validate each other. Validate those thoughts and emotions that crave acknowledgement and understanding. Validate anyone and everyone, whenever possible. Don’t believe that it can just “go without saying”. Say it.
Spread the magic.