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The Importance of Validating Your Feelings

The effects of having our emotions invalidated while we’re growing up isn’t talked about enough and it can have lasting effects. This can happen when people say things like “you don’t know real struggles” when a younger person is upset about something they’re struggling with. This might include being told “I’ll give you something to cry about” which implied that the reason you were crying then “wasn’t a big enough reason”. Other people may have had to deal with “worse” problems and so we were told to be thankful for what we had because of what other children experienced. Your feelings of sadness, frustration, disappointment or anger were still real and valid. And you were allowed those feelings.

You may have been told to “stop being so sensitive,” which taught that you weren’t tough enough. You may have also been told “it builds character” which may have made you feel that you had to find a positive lesson in every bad thing you experienced. This can also be part of how people invalidate the seriousness of abuse, and other things that happened to you that were someone else’s fault. If someone doesn’t want to take responsibility, they may minimize what happened to you. They may say it’s okay because “they didn’t mean to do it” or “they don’t know any better,” perhaps because of abuse they went through. Your feelings may be invalidated because someone wants you to “let it go.” How serious they feel it was, or the reasons it happened, are not reasons that your feelings should be ignored or disregarded. Your feelings are valid. You should never have to “let it go.” 

These things that we were told, and many more, taught us that our emotions were bad and wrong. It likely felt invalidating. It may have been damaging And it probably affects how we see the emotions of others. I’ve had people say similar things to me now that I’m an adult, and I think it’s likely they do it because they were told things like these when they were younger, too. Over time, this has led to me invalidating my own feelings. I’ve told myself I should be strong and to avoid such feelings, or that the reasons for them weren’t “big enough”. I told myself that others had it worse than me, therefore I wasn’t allowed to be upset. None of these things helped me. Instead, they actually made me worse off. I bottled stuff up and then began using unhealthy coping methods to deal with the emotions. Having our emotions invalidated as we grow up can be traumatizing in its own way. It also doesn’t teach us how to effectively deal with and process our negative emotions. This can lead to people having fits of uncontrollable rage, spirals of depression and guilt, substance abuse to avoid feelings, and any number of other unhealthy reactions that can cause us more harm and prolong everything or make it worse.

Being unable to cope with my feelings was a big part of me not being able to cope with conflict in my relationships. Downplaying any “bad” thing that happened and ignoring it meant, for instance, I wouldn’t point out and deal with a small (sometimes completely unintentional) mistake. Instead, I let my feelings build without communicating about them and let my resentment build. By the time I acknowledged and spoke about my feelings, the problem was a thousand times worse than it would have been if I had dealt with it quickly. And sometimes it was too late to fix the damage done.

It’s not too late to learn and do better. You don’t have to be thankful it wasn’t “worse”. You don’t have to find a silver lining. While it’s important not to get stuck in our feelings long-term, sitting with them and feeling them and acknowledging you aren’t okay is okay! It’s okay to think something sucks or that it wasn’t fair. It’s okay to feel frustrated or sad over “small” things. Sometimes we don’t even understand why a situation or something has left us having such big feelings, and that’s okay, too! Your feelings are real and valid, even if they don’t make sense to you. And you deserve patience and compassion. Especially from yourself.

When you have negative feelings, if you find yourself minimizing them, or telling yourself why you don’t have a right to feel them, stop and try to be aware of what you’re doing. And allow yourself to feel it if you can. I've often had to remind myself that while it is uncomfortable, I can be uncomfortable and sit with my feelings. Think about if there’s a healthy response you can have to those feelings. For instance, if someone said something hurtful to you, talking to them about it might be a lot more productive than acting like you don’t care. Your feelings are valid. And invalidating them yourself is unlikely to be good for you.

Try to remember that, and try to be kind to yourself.

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