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Invalidating Other’s Feelings

A common complaint I hear couples express is some version of "my feelings are never valid".  In other words, needs for acceptance and being heard are not being met.

When you see someone you love in pain, it's natural to feel uncomfortable and have the impulse to move away from that pain.  You might do this by reassuring, giving advice, correcting perceptions, reframing an issue, redirecting attention, telling a story, offering analysis, etc.  With these responses, the message often received by the listener is "my feelings (or my experiences) aren't valid" or "there is no room for my feelings here."

Of course, your intention is not to invalidate another's feelings.  You want to help.  When your partner complains about "being invalidated", you might feel confused needing clarity about what you are doing that your partner is reacting to.

Here are some examples of responses (in bold) that might be perceived as "invalidating".

Speaker:  "I just hate Christmas." Responder:  "I worked so hard to make everything perfect for you and your family. 
I made the dinner. I . . ."

Speaker:  "I am exhausted and starving."    Responder:  "You shouldn't push yourself so hard."

Speaker:  "I am dying inside.  I need some time to find me."    Responder: "Couples who separate don't usually get back together."

Speaker:  "I am so shocked.  I can't believe you said that."   Responder:  "Come on, it's not a big deal.  I was just joking."

Speaker:  "I am a little spooked by our neighbor."   Responder:  "Ahh, he's just eccentric.  Don't worry so much."

Over time, little comments like this add up and block the lines of communication. One of the biggest gifts you can give to someone in pain is your listening. To do this consistently it means becoming aware of and comfortable with your own pain.  The most direct practice I know of for learning to be with your own discomfort without reacting is sitting still.  Whether you sit on a chair, on a cushion, on your bed, sit still and upright for a pre-set amount of time each day.  As you sit, notice all the feelings, sensations, and impulses that move through you.  Little by little this still witnessing of your internal world helps to create a space between you and your reactions.  When you have space, wisdom and compassion can flow through.

This week try this sitting practice.  Start with an amount of time that feels do-able to you.  It can be as little as five minutes.  With a gentle and kind energy name every part of your experience you notice in that time without trying to explain it or fix it.

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