Validation is the acknowledgement of your own or someone else’s inner experience (feelings, thoughts, urges) and behaviors as understandable. Validation helps you improve communication with those you love. When you validate others, you create a safe context for them to express their fears, worries, and issues that make them uncomfortable. When you have open, accurate communication, then you can problem solve.
John comes home from work and his wife Amy meets him at the door holding the credit card bill. She has an angry look on her face. In a loud voice she says, “You know we are trying to cut the credit card bill. We agreed to discuss any charges. It’s not even two weeks later and you’ve already broken that promise. How dare you! How can I ever trust you?”
How will John respond? Of course he will say something like, “You are always on my case. I can’t do anything right. You’re the reason we’re in this credit card mess anyway, so don’t go blaming me.” Communication then becomes an argument. John responded to his wife’s anger with his own anger. While that is understandable and natural, it doesn’t help either of them have a helpful discussion.
John’s first emotional reaction to his wife’s upset was likely one of shame or guilt, because he had broken their agreement not to use the credit card. Instead of expressing his guilt, he defends himself with anger. That makes him less vulnerable, and it also makes effective communication more difficult. If he had accurately expressed his feelings, John might have said, “Oh, honey, you are right. I can understand how you would be so hurt. I did use the credit card and then I felt guilty about it. I meant to tell you and I kept putting it off.” That would be a more accurate expression of his thoughts and emotions. In turn, Amy would likely …
Emotionally sensitive people are among the most compassionate and passionate people in the world. Often creative, you have talents as artists, writers, and musicians. You add to the caring and beauty of the world. Many times you also struggle with self-hatred, depression, anxiety, and horrible feelings of alienation. Those struggles are likely not due to your being emotionally sensitive. Much of your suffering may come from self-doubt and from an agonizing experience of being broken. That likely comes from what you are told and experience as a child.
Belonging means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a church, some with friends, some with family, some on Twitter or other social media. Some see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Some struggle to find a sense of belonging.
Mark McGuinness, in his book resilience, points out that in your lifetime you will apply for opportunities and be rejected many times. You will work for goals you do not achieve. Even when you do succeed, you will be criticized, sometimes viciously. That criticism may be directed at you professionally or on a more personal level. Criticism is a part of life.
Most people have at one time or another kept themselves from going after what they wanted because they were afraid of rejection, failure, or criticism. For the emotionally sensitive, this is a common experience. Sensitivity to rejection and criticism can be paralyzing in both work and social situations. What you want to do may be simple or it may be a complex endeavor. Whether it is to enter a cooking contest or to go visit a friend across town, accepting criticism may be the price of going after your dreams.
There seems to be a strong stigma about loneliness. Many people will admit to being depressed before they’ll talk about being lonely. Fearing being judged as unlikeable, a loser, or weird, they don’t discuss their sense of aloneness, alienation, or exclusion. That horrible experience of being the last one chosen for teams in school seems to continue into adulthood, though the reasons are different. If you don’t have friends, then there must be something wrong with you. Headlines that describe the Unabomber, John Hinckley, the mass murderer at Virginia Tech and other criminals as loners add to the fear of being judged if you are alone.
I’m no talking about solitude. Loneliness is a different experience than solitude. Solitude is being alone by choice and wanting that aloneness or being comfortable with it. Loneliness means there is a discomfort– you want to be more connected to others.
If you are working on developing new coping skills, you may find that understanding the skills and how they work is much easier than actually using the skills. You may be able to tell someone else about the skill, write out the steps involved, and answer questions about it but find you do not use it in your life. You may find that you keep going back to familiar ways of dealing with emotions and stress, even when those old ways are not good for you in the long run.
Researchers in positive psychology tell us that we are more content when we savor the positive that happens in our lives. But focusing on the positive isn’t natural for many people. We tend to see and think about what we dislike, fear and what has hurt us more than we recognize and replay what we cherish. So maybe the end of the year is a great time to remember what you are grateful for about 2012. I suggest we declare December 31 as Gratitude Day.
If you are grateful for events that happened, find a way to remember them. Maybe share stories about these events with friends or family members. Look at photos of trips you took or celebrations you had during the year. Maybe you took a big step in your life dring 2012. Let yourself feel proud of that step. Maybe you were a good friend to someone or got through a tough time. Acknowledge yourself for what you achieved. If you are grateful to friends for support or for being your friend, let them know. If some have gone the extra mile for you, maybe send them a gratitude note.
I’m grateful for so much that happened in 2012. I’m grateful to everyone who has read the posts in The Emotionally Sensitive Person and to everyone who contributed through completing the surveys. Thank you.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go and not be questioned.”
Home, in my mind, is about a feeling. That feeling can come from people, a place or yourself. It is serenity, laughter and authentic acceptance. Authentic acceptance from others means they know my faults and love me anyway. They don’t point out my ongoing shortcomings to improve me or change me, they see those quirks as simply part of me. It’s not the politically proper acceptance of keepng their thoughts to themselves. It goes beyond that. Their acceptance comes from deep within, the acceptance of those who truly love without qualifiers or caveats.
Many of those who make up my “home” would make different choices than I have, including the paths I would take all over again. Yet they accept my choices, love me anyway, and sometimes urge me to reconsider my current choices. They give information, saying what they believe is true without judging or threatening. When I trudge on with decisions they don’t understand, they become my cheerleaders. They may not approve and they still love and accept. People who are your home don’t leave. When you have these people in your life, you know you’re not alone, whether they are physically present or not.
Based on the research on happiness, having close relationships is associated with life satisfaction. At the same time, connecting with others in a meaningful way requires allowing yourself be vulnerable. To connect meaningfully is to shed pretense, to take off whatever mask you wear and allow the authentic you to be present. Brene Brown has excellent TED talks and books that discuss her research on vulnerability.
Emotionally sensitive people tend to both overshare and undershare information about themselves; sometimes they tell very personal information to people they don’t know well and whithold information from close friends. There can be undesirable results for both actions.
When emotions are high and there are different viewpoints among participants, having an effective conversation can be challenging. In addition, emotions usually run highest when the outcome of the conversation means the most. People get tense and hyper-alert, bracing themselves for the worst. For example, consider your reaction when someone says “We need to talk. ” Most people prepare for a difficult interaction by putting up barriers to defend themselves, not by relaxing and focusing on being more open with information. They’re on guard before the deep conversation even starts. Their posture makes it difficult to freely share ideas.
Many emotionally sensitive people avoid conversations that are likely to result in conflict. They fire people, break up with girlfriends, and cancel plans with friends by texting, sending emails, or leaving voice mails. Sometimes decisions are unilaterally made on incomplete information because difficult conversations were avoided.
For the emotionally sensitive, tense conversations can be so painful that they avoid any deep conversations and avoid expressing their own opinions.
In Critical Conversation Skills, the authors give guidelines for having difficult conversations in an effective way.