I couldn’t tell you how many times I sat in my therapists office last year as she so easily and nonchalantly said “Of course, you just want your feelings validated.” Like this was common knowledge. I didn’t even understand it when she said it to me the first time. I’ve spent my entire life hearing that I’m too sensitive, too emotional, and too thin-skinned. I’ve heard this so much in fact, that somewhere along the way I started believing it and never even considered that it might not be true.
If I felt upset about anything I just assumed it was me being “too sensitive” and rarely voiced my feelings because if I didn’t think they were valid, why would anyone else? Being the master of self-loathing that I am, I often added a delightful “What the fuck is wrong with me? Why can’t I just “get over it”?” Adding insult to self-inflicted injury.
I’ve been working for a couple years to build up my self image from shit to something manageable. Obviously the goal is to go from hating myself to loving myself, but I don’t throw the word love around lightly and frankly, I’m just not there yet. I’m not even ready for an “I looooove spending time with me” because, well, I don’t. I’m trying to trust that building my self-esteem will make it easier for me to feel just as deserved as everyone else.
Trust the process and all that jive.
Learning in my thirties that I do, indeed, deserve to have my feelings validated has been a fucking trip. I started to see it everywhere, people begging for validation. You know, the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It made me see that a lot of people seem to struggle with either not receiving the validation they require, or are not sure how to go about validating someone else’s feelings, or often times even their own.
Learning how to effectively validate someone else’s feelings doesn’t often come naturally. But the good news is, it can be honed and practiced as a skill. One of the most effective communication skills that there are, actually. Alongside empathy. In fact, being able to empathize with someone is sometimes all the validation that they need. Most of the time, we all just want to know someone hears and values us. Even if they don’t necessarily agree with or understand our feelings. (Be aware that this doesn’t mean sympathize, which can sometimes invalidate someone’s feelings unintentionally.)
When someone needs their feelings validated, they are not asking anyone to “fix” the problem for them. They just need to know that they are not alone, their feelings matter and it isn’t “wrong” to feel the way they feel. We all experience vast arrays of feelings and emotions throughout our days, some reasonable and rational, some not so much. Personally, it’s often difficult for me to know the difference. This is where communicating to someone that can validate my feelings as important, not something to be ashamed of, helps me a great deal.
Obviously, we can’t live our lives seeking constant validation, but asking for it when you need it, from people who care about you isn’t outlandish. It should be part of any healthy relationship.
I didn’t grow up in a household that talked to each other. Not kindly. My father was “in charge” and everything was done the way he wanted it. Whether it made sense or not. There was little discussion to be had about anything. I didn’t learn anything helpful about communication, other than how to keep quiet and small and maybe I wouldn’t piss anyone off with my existence. This, of course, is not an effective form of communication. I’ve had to educate myself on not only how to communicate with people, but I’ve also had to try and “unlearn” all of that negative, unhelpful and abusive bullshit that I was taught so early.
I ended up in a miserable marriage for a decade with someone who not only invalidated my feelings on a daily basis, but put in a lot of time and effort convincing me that I was always the problem. I’m still trying to work through that and it’s been over eight years. Old mental habits die hard, yo.
Therapy was a game-changer for me. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Ya know? I’ve always felt so fucking guilty every time I felt, well, anything at all, really, good or bad. I felt I didn’t deserve to have happy thoughts, and I was ungrateful, a too-sensitive loser when I had bad ones. I’m working on that. It’s hard though. It’s easier for me to internalize and dwell in the filth of a subconscious. But that — and this may come as a shock to you — is unhelpful and unhealthy.
It’s scary though, isn’t it? Sharing your feelings with someone else and there being a possibility of rejection. Of being criticized, dismissed, or judged for something we may already be feeling crummy about. I know the first time I openly talked to my partner about my jealousy, one of my deeply embarrassing feelings that I feel the most shame about, I felt like less of a disgusting monster and more like someone who’s had some stupid shit happen to her again and again and again, and it’s completely normal and even expected.
Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t really gotten much easier for me, but being met with kindness and patience goes a long way to ease the guilt and shame sometimes. And those positive experiences build new healthier connections in my brain. And at the end of the day, that’s what I need to be doing — training my brain to work with me, because it all starts there.