Treat Others’ Feelings as Valid, Part I

Stacey was trying to console her best friend, Marie. After going with this guy for over a year he had suddenly dumped Marie — in an email no less! After reading the email, Marie immediately called Stacey who quickly came over to help her through the agony. Marie was an emotional mess, and Stacey was doing what she could.

“It’s OK, hon,” she said to Marie. “The guy was a bum and you deserve more.”

“He wasn’t a bum and I loved him,” she wailed through the tears. “I don’t see how I can live without him!”

That comment did it for Stacey. “That’s a load of crap and it’s silly to feel that way. You were alive and well before you ever met the jerk, so what’s the big deal? Tomorrow’s a new day and you just move on without him.”

Stacey, of course, is likely correct over the long term, but notice what is happening from Marie’s perspective: Her good friend is basically saying that Marie’s feelings over the breakup are silly; her feelings are not valid; she shouldn’t feel the way she does.

Stacey’s motives are sincere, but she’s judging Marie, not consoling her. No matter what she says, Marie’s reality is that she does feel that she can’t live anymore without the guy; from her point of view, the emotions she feels are valid and real. Stacey’s comments don’t help because she does not accept the reality of Marie’s feelings from Marie’s perspective.

Note those last three words in italics. Problems in your social interactions will arise if you don’t try to see things from others’ perspective. You must guard against selfishly looking at things from your point of view, because whether you’re right or wrong, you’re not providing emotional support for the other person when you make it all about you.

The key to effective interactions with others is empathy, a reaction that requires you to get inside another person, see things as they’re seeing them, and let them know you understand what they’re feeling. Empathy comes much easier when you have been down a similar road.

Imagine if Stacey said, “God, I remember feeling the same way when Bill left me. My world was crushed and I didn’t see how life was worth anything anymore.” In this case, she is not judging Marie; she is accepting her comments and feelings as real and valid; she is showing understanding and compassion. Marie will now feel a lot more inclined to “unload” on Stacey because she knows her friend understands where she’s coming from. She will express her frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, and other feelings, all while knowing she is acting normally and doesn’t have to bottle everything up.

Showing understanding; can you do it in your everyday coping? Take a look at some of the conflicts in society today: Do Whites make an effort to see things from a Black perspective, and vice-versa? Do men try to see things from a women’s perspective, and vice-versa? Do Liberals try and understand a Conservative perspective, and vice-versa? Generally, the answer is “No.” Rather than try and gain understanding through rational discourse, warring sides insult and belittle each other, saying, “How you feel is absurd; you shouldn’t feel that way because that’s not the way it is.”

Not the way it is. Maybe for you! Once again, we see how conflicts develop when parties selfishly make the issue all about them. We say it again and again in this blog: If you’re the main ingredient in your life recipe, you’re not going to cope very well over the long haul.

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