Trust us when we say, we know you’re well-intentioned. Heck, us too. But that doesn’t mean that in an effort to dissuade a friend or loved one’s misery, we haven’t written off their feelings. Again, it’s with all good intentions. We want to clear up their sad feelings and help them move on, and ultimately, just feel better.
The problem is that certain language actually can act as an insult to injury. When a friend is feeling low, and we address their situation with phrases like, “at least it’s not xyz…” or, “you’re being too sensitive,” “it could be worse,” or telling them what they have to be grateful for instead, we are writing off their hardship. When we experience sad or upsetting feelings, the least helpful thing is to be made to feel as if our feelings are invalid.
By not validating someone’s feelings, we are brushing off their human experience. Suffering and hardship are part of that experience, and of course, the ranges of such suffering vary greatly. But just because someone else has it worse (and trust us, someone else always has it worse) does not detract from the struggles that someone is facing, and their feelings are very real, regardless of how we perceive their situation. Erica Spiegelman, addiction and wellness specialist and speaker, knows a thing or two about intrapersonal compassion.
“We have to be aware and mindful about watching our words. We have all been careless with our language and the way we communicate from time to time. Now more than ever, everyone is feeling stress due to what is going on in the world. We have to work on supporting our friends, family, and colleagues, and that begins with being mindful of invalidating comments like ‘get over it,’ ‘let it go,’ etc.”
This is where compassion comes in. We have no idea what past life experiences have shaped our friend’s emotional responses, or why a moment is significant to them, or why they are feeling the way that they are. However, their feelings are a reality, and thus valid, and deserve to be treated as such.
“Instead, we can use kinder, more compassionate language. For example, ‘that seems to be upsetting you’—validating their feelings. Or ‘I’ statements work too, like, ‘I understand what you are feeling too; I can relate.’”
It’s important to acknowledge their feelings with phrases like “that must be really hard for you.” We can be encouraging, supportive, and validating all at the same time by saying things like “These feelings are temporary, but they’re real, and you’re entitled to them. It’s important that you’re feeling them now, so that you can process this properly and move forward when the time is right. I’m here for you for the journey.”
Spiegelman says, “You just have to literally visualize putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try and close your eyes for two seconds and see if you can feel compassion for this person. Then express it with love. I know we say invalidating comments sometimes ‘help’ people feel better or move forward short-term, but acknowledging where they are at holding space for them will help in the long run.”
Holding space for someone’s feelings is holding space for them as a person—their intellect, and their value. When we don’t dismiss their feelings, we allow our loved one to process, thus, move on at a healthy pace. It’s a genuine gift.