Whether you have anxious, fearful, avoidant or have a secure attachment style, we have all at one time or another engaged in behaviour that invalidates someone else’s feelings and even makes them feel the two of you are not compatible.
When someone refuses to see things from our perspective or makes us feel that we are always wrong and they’re always right, we all can agree that it hurts whether the behaviour is intentional or not. But the hurt, disrespect, insult and demeaning feeling is nothing compared to when our emotional experience or feelings are ignored, minimized, or dismissed as over-exaggerated, unimportant, something we need to “get over” or “work on”.
Granted, there are some people who are overly sensitive and emotionally fragile. Whatever you say, they are going to get “hurt”, take it personally or take offence. That’s just who they are.
There are also validation-seeking addicts or “extra” people who create unnecessary drama, conflicts and/or chaos to make themselves feel good, wanted, needed, important, noticed… and whatever else the fix of the day is.
I am not talking about all the above. I am talking about having our feelings listened to, wanting to be heard and to be seen without judgement. I am talking about emotional validation.
Some people reading this may be like, “you don’t need anyone to validate you”. True that. The “validation” I am talking about is not validating you as a person or validating your existence. You don’t need anyone to validate your person or existence. You are human and you exist, and that’s enough. Your beingness, thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions, preferences, interests etc., are just as important as anybody else’s. You shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to authentically show up and you should not be seeking permission from anyone to be you, or to exist as you.
You also don’t need a relationship to validate your worth. You are worthy of love whether you believe it or not. Okay, maybe you are a little “harder to love” because you get a certain way sometimes (anxiously preoccupied, fearfully avoidant or dismissive/indifferent) and could make it easier for the other person to love you.
But if you are in a relationship, at least a healthy functional one, wanting to feel listened to, heard and seen is not a bad thing. Carl Rogers said, “When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!”
Emotional validation in a relationship is saying: “I hear you. I see you. I get you. Your feelings are important to me. I care about how you feel.”
It does not mean that you agree with someone’s experience of reality. It simply means you acknowledge their experience of it as real to them.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to really hear and appreciate someone else’s experience of reality without passing judgment, dismissing their emotional experience, trying to make them feel better, give them advice or help them. Instead of telling someone “I care about how you feel”, we make them feel that how they feel doesn’t matter, or that they shouldn’t be feeling what they are feeling.
Some people have mastered the art of emotional invalidation so well that they make you question what is real and what’s not, sometimes to a point where you actually think you must be insane or crazy to feel the way you feel. Even simple conversations turn into “I can’t talk to you when you are like this?” “Why do you always do this?” “This is insane”, “You are crazy”.
You hear what they are saying and see what they are doing with your own two eyes, but they are like “What do you mean?”, “What are you talking about?”, “Are you serious right now?” “We’re not having this discussion!” After a while you begin believing that something is wrong with your feelings and/or wrong with you. “They are right. I must be crazy”.
This ability to make someone else question their experience of reality has been referred to as “gaslighting” by some Psychologists. It’s a form of emotional abuse and the most covertly abusive aspects of a narcissistic personality.
You are not just left questioning your experience of reality (and your sanity), you feel drained and exhausted from all the trying to get listened to, heard and seen. And it doesn’t matter how hard you try to make the relationship work or how many changes you make, you feel stuck and unable to be the best version of yourself. You may even find yourself conflicted because you want your ex back, want to try things again but you are still angry and hurt by all the times your perceptions, experiences and feelings were not taken into account, were minimized, dismissed and sometimes rejected as not important or just plain old crazy.
If this describes you and your relationship, maybe you’re not crazy after all, maybe you are trying to make things work with someone who doesn’t think your feelings are important and doesn’t care about how you feel. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it just means your feelings, if they don’t affect them personally or directly are not important to them.
Next time someone shares their emotional experience, choose an empathetic response. Sometimes all someone wants is to feel that you “get them”.