New mom walks into a cafe to meet her two other friends for lunch. 20 minutes past noon when the expected arrival was 12pm. Feeling sad, guilty and exhausted, she approaches the table…
New Mom: (carrying her baby who is sleeping in the car seat) “Hi, so sorry I’m late. The baby wanted to nurse shortly before leaving so I had to do that before I left. It’s so nice to see you guys! I’ve just been so cooped up in the house, sleep deprived, and frustrated. I was really looking forward to a magical time with my little one, but honestly, I feel more depressed than I ever have in my life.”
Friend: (who recently had another miscarriage) “Well, It does sound exhausting, but personally, I would be delighted if I had a baby. I don’t care that it means I would get less sleep. Babies are a blessing.”
Other Friend: “Well at least both of you are married. I’m still single. I’ll probably never have a family…. I’m running out of time.”
Now, I know all to well the frustration of hearing someone complain about something that you’re working hard for and don’t have, or something that you cannot have because of your biology, or never have because of situational things, but if we express that frustration as invalidation to the other person, we are creating a very lonely life, because who will want to support us when we are so invalidating to others?
Who the hell would want to be one of these people out for coffee together? I know I wouldn’t. No one is supporting each other, and they have to bring each other down in order to validate their own feelings and own problems, rather than supporting and loving each other.
Sometimes I would get home from gatherings with friends and realize that I sometime felt worse, or more alone. This was weird for me because I am an extrovert and am usually hyped up from gatherings. It took me a long time to realize what was happening. I was feeling misunderstood, unsupported, and silenced.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t do this, but honestly I never saw it as a problem. It’s what people did and said, and that’s how conversations would go, not really thinking they should be done any differently. As I started to change, I recognized these little digs that happen all the time. These invalidating statements that just feel shitty.
That’s the sad part about it all is that it IS considered normal and it just seems to happen without question. It’s done to us, so we do it to others and there the cycle goes. Round and round and round…. (as my 2 year old would say)
Here is an alternative response a friend can make:
Friend: “Wow, I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling that way. Sometimes I get so caught up in the desire to have a baby [getting married] that I don’t even think that having a baby could be a challenging time. Is there anything we can do to help?”
It’s important not to be nice and supportive ONLY to expect it in return otherwise you will become resentful. However if you give and give and give and are feeling the relationship is not serving you, you can set boundaries around it.
We all want to be validated, but we can’t go about it by just invalidating the person who is talking and trying to present the fact that your problem is worse. Try validating the person who first presented the problem and when the conversation moves to you as the focus, then talk about your struggles. You might actually find that your needs are better met
Next time you are at a social gathering, I invite you to stop and think and ask, “does this sound invalidating” if so, I invite you to explore supportive statements rather than invalidating ones. Sometimes it might be as simple as saying “that sucks.” If the person is looking for a solution, feel free to offer one, but making your problem sound worse isn’t a solution… Solutions usually sound like “have you tried…? what worked for me was….. So and so had that happen and they…..”
So how am I ever going to feel validated if all I do is just validate others?
Well, like I said, for the most part when we are kind to others they give back in return due to the rule of reciprocity… it’s built into our DNA.
Other things you can do is to ask for it! Say, hey, I’m struggling with some things, can I process them with you? That might set the stage for the person that you’re looking for validation. If the person still isn’t validating let them know how their response feels invalidating, they might need to be educated that you didn’t like it because everyone is different, so we need to make our emotional needs know. What Suzie wants is different from what Johnny wants…
Last but not least VALIDATE YOURSELF. Yup! That’s right. The best thing you can do for yourself is to validate yourself with love and compassion and not put all your eggs in one basket for someone else to validate you. Although helpful, it is never enough when others validate. You ALSO need to validate yourself too, or else you’ll continue to spin your wheels and feel like you never get anywhere.