A Magic Trick for Everyone

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.”

That’s it.

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.

heal

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. 

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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.

A Balancing Act

balancing_man

I’ve never had good balance. A fact I’m often reminded of in dance class and on the rare occasion I wear heels.

The facts I know. Self care is important. Tribe and giving to others is important. It’s not just because I think they “should” be, I truly believe they are vital to the person I am and who I want to be. But can you have both at the same time? I believe it’s possible, but I haven’t figured out how to make it work.. yet. My pattern seems to go like this: I get super focused on one and ignore the other, until after awhile I notice how much I’ve been neglecting the other so I switch all my efforts into that one- and the cycle continues. It’s a draining process and it leaves me feeling like I’m never doing enough of anything. I’m a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, somehow always skipping over the middle ground.

pendulum

I’m either all in taking care of myself or completely ignoring myself and giving to others. And not surprisingly, when I put myself on the back burner I end up burning out.  It’s this end of the spectrum I (as I’m sure the majority of you) have spent most of my life. Putting others first to the point of being self-sacrificing. Fueled by a desperate need to be viewed as anything but selfish, I chased this as if I was trying to make up for my shortcomings, for who I was. It’s the reason I spent my sweet sixteen in the emergency room pretending I had had unprotected sex to get Plan B for a girl I barely even knew. I was trying to prove to myself, even more so than to others, that I was worthy. Of course I didn’t know this at the time, and I certainly didn’t understand how ill-founded those efforts were.

a young woman walking in backshadow

Seeing self-care as a healthy priority, a necessity, for my own well being as well as my ability to help others, is a new outlook for me. Truths that I completely buy into and reflect back as much as possible to others. It’s putting it into practice where things get a bit tricky. I guess it’s no surprise that prioritizing self-care is difficult given that most of us have spent so much time on the other end of the spectrum; believing and even being taught that anything we do for ourselves is “selfish” and not in line with being a “good person”. This old story is so familiar to me that it’s almost as if I start scripting off the words before even realizing I’ve picked up the book.  

It’s the ease of falling back into old habits that makes this extreme so sticky to get out of. I get myself into this belief that “Right now I’m helping X which means I can’t be doing something for myself”. I recently caught myself in this mindset on the busy Thanksgiving weekend. I had a thought that it would be really good for my well being if I took ten minutes to meditate, but then I dismissed it saying “I’m not doing self-care right now, right now I’m helping X”. Solidifying this “either-or” mentality I have when it comes to who I’m helping. I caught this message in my awareness, and thanks to my knowledge of how important self-care is, I was able to see the flaws in it. Not enough to make me take a break to meditate, but enough to flag this as something I certainly need to work on.bethere

I don’t regret the things I’ve done for others; in fact I’m interested in finding ways to do more, so figuring out a balance is especially important to me.

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On the other end of the spectrum, when I’m focusing on self-care I find it easy to get out of the mindset of helping others, contributing, etc. When I first started to understand how crucial taking care of myself was, it was where all my focus went. For a few months I was rocking self care; my only goal during that time was to take care of my needs – everything else came second. I don’t think there was anything wrong with doing this, in fact I’m sure it was exactly what I needed to do at the time. Because giving to others comes more naturally to us, and we find it easier to prioritize then our own care, I think it’s necessary to take some time focusing on ourselves and learning how to prioritize it. The issue now is learning how to take the next step without leaving it behind.

I am a firm believer that we need to care for ourselves in order to care for others, one of the pillars that the #MyMaskFirst challenge was built on. However, during our month-long challenge of self-care, we only had one focus. Self care. As the saying goes- “it’s pretty easy to be good at work life balance when there’s no work to do”; what we need to be able to do is keep rocking self care when it’s not our only focus. Being able to care for ourselves and help others at the same time. Hmm.. maybe a new challenge is in order?

bethere

As I said before, I haven’t figured out a way to simultaneously prioritize both in my daily routine…yet. (If you are wondering why I keep ending my sentences like that, I encourage you to watch this Ted Talk on the power of yet!)

I know I will get better at this balancing act, even if I’m not sure how I’m going to do it. I’m strapping on the stilettos and taking it one wobbly step at a time.