Validation – the cry for it is everywhere you look. Like my selfie, retweet my words, read my blog. See me. Hear me. Accept me. We are all, in some way, desperately seeking the approval of others. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about feelings – shocker right? Me, talk about feelings… how surprising (^_^)
When people come to us with their woes and heartache the natural instinct is to want to help. The majority of us possess empathy, and seeing someone we care about in distress upsets us. We want to fix their problems and make the bad feelings go away. I myself have done this many times throughout my life. However, I have slowly come to realize that, while this is a noble endeavor, the way you go about helping someone is of vital importance.
For me, one of the main reasons I don’t always reach out to people is because often their way of trying to help actually makes me feel worse. No one can change or solve another’s issues, nor should they have to. That is only something we can each try to figure out for ourselves.
What someone who is going through hell really needs is not a flurry of fixits, but a form of validation. They need someone to care enough to recognize and acknowledge their pain. What they don’t need is to be told to look on the bright side. They need someone willing to listen and simply be there while they battle whatever is hurting them.
You can’t fight my monster for me, but you can support me while I learn to do it myself.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been battling and just wanted to hear the words “I’m sorry you’re hurting, it sucks but I still love you and will always be here”. Those words are so comforting and powerful.
So often I hear people say things like “everyone has struggles”, thinking that they are putting things into perspective. Thanks for your groundbreaking insight, but that actually does nothing to alleviate mine (as I assume you may have intended). Saying something like that only invalidates my pain, and makes me feel guilty for feeling it in the first place.
Yes, everyone suffers. Yes, millions of people have it worse than me. Guess what? I still feel like shit. Your “logical” reasoning does not serve as a magic cure for my depression. You mean well I know, but all you are doing is exposing your lack of understanding about what is going on inside my head.
But here’s the kicker – I’m not asking you to understand it (hell I don’t understand it half the time). All I’m asking for is you to love me enough to sit with me in the dark a while.
Back when I worked at a crisis line we were taught in training to “walk beside” our callers. Meaning, don’t run ahead of them and force a solution on them (even if you think you see one), but stay with them in all their pain and discomfort. Guide them to find their own solutions – ones that work for them, not you.
It’s not easy to do, and we may fail as much as we succeed, but sticking by someone as they figure things out is one of the kindest things we can do as human beings.