Whenever I would complain about something like a really tough homework assignment, it was always common for classmates to shut it down as something utterly pointless. This left me feeling unheard and scared to open up to others about academic stressors again and potentially heavier topics. Likewise, the alternative option would be to bottle up all feelings, but this way is usually prone to way worse events like emotional outbursts or mental burn out.
What you see playing out is something called invalidation and it’s actually one pretty tricky thing to spot. That may be because of how hidden and underrepresented mental health struggles are with its prominent stigmas in society. Invalidation can ‘show up’ in one’s responses through someone’s body language (them looking away from you while you’re talking), or the content of their responses (talking about a completely different topic).
A common invalidating phrase that may be thrown out is that someone has been through worse. For example, if you’re hurt after a breakup from a relationship that lasted a month or so, then you can’t be sad because it couldn’t be worse than your friend’s relationship that ended after 3 years. Some may say that being hurt about something so minor makes you very sensitive, but that’s not the case. In that connection, you and a person decided to be courageous to love each other despite its short term. It’s not a bad thing at all because at the end of the day, you found that you and another person didn’t work out and you now have the time to find whoever else you’re meant to be with or focus on yourself.
The response suggesting you’re being too sensitive is one example of a struggle being ignored, and that can be hurtful.
Yet, one of the impactful responses that my friends used to tell me during times like these was the wonderful phrase, “You’re valid.”
This impactful but simple phrase does a lot of good because of it’s comforting nature. The key note in this saying is validation, the opposite of invalidation. But, what exactly is it?
The American Psychological Association’s definition for validation is:
“the process of establishing the truth or logical cogency of something. An example is determining the accuracy of a research instrument in measuring what it is designed to measure. In some forms of psychotherapy, validation may take the form of mirroring of the client’s judgment or experience by the therapist.”
Validation is a sort of affirmation, like the self-love “I don’t chase, I attract” one you hear a lot on TikTok. Except, someone else is positively projecting that onto you!
Notice the term “mirroring” in the definition too. That’s a term used where someone is actively listening to and understanding you. The fun thing is that it’s an easy thing to act out when all you have to do is listen and repeat what a friend is entailing to you. If your friend is talking to you about not sleeping enough this morning with their arms crossed, then mirroring would be to also cross your arms and affirm that they deserve more rest.
Through this, you’re showing empathy because the conversation is going on track and you’re even comforting them by pinpointing their concern of their struggle.
Empathetic listening is something that’s underrated yet quite crucial for how we talk to others, especially our own friends. Everyone is always going through something, and we may never know what someone’s struggle is until they tell us. It’s important to know that whenever someone vents to you, that person believes that you’re trustworthy enough to hear this heavy information.
So, we should try to sit back and think before we speak on someone’s struggles because we have an opportunity to be helpful in them feeling better. Words are a powerful thing, and using them to empower and support others is a great way to show you care about someone, whether it be your friend or someone more.