We’re often quick to dismiss our feelings, thinking of ourselves as silly, stupid, too sensitive, or downright dramatic.
Oh, you shouldn’t be sad! So many people have it worse than you! Look at everything you have to be thankful for.
How can you be anxious about something so small?
Why are you still devastated about that? Come on! It wasn’t even that big of a deal in the first place. Move on already!
You don’t deserve to feel happy during such a stressful time.
You don’t have the luxury of being upset. There’s too much to do today!
While your inner dialogue may sound a bit different, these are some common ways we regularly invalidate our feelings and, thereby, invalidate ourselves. The good news is that we can shift the way we treat our feelings (and, again, ourselves).
When we validate our feelings, we accept them, without judging them or making ourselves feel even worse about what’s going on. We also explore our feelings with curiosity because our anger, sadness, anxiety, and joy have much to teach us about our desires, goals, and needs. And they can lead to helpful solutions, if we let ourselves dive in and reflect.
So, what does self-validation look like?
It looks like naming your feelings and being honest with yourself. It’s OK to not love what you’re feeling, and to feel it anyway. It’s OK to say, Yes, I am upset. Yes, I’d rather be happy. And yes, I’m going to sit with my sadness right now.
It looks like connecting to the physical sensations you’re experiencing and observing what’s happening inside your own body. I’m feeling sadness in my stomach. I’m feeling tension in my neck. My face is getting hotter. My jaw is clenching. I am shivering.
It looks like refraining from making cruel comments about yourself, and forgiving yourself when insults might fly out.
It looks like wondering where your feelings might stem from: What situation triggered that emotion? Is it reopening an old wound? What else am I feeling? What is this feeling trying to communicate to me? What is it teaching me about what I need or really want? Is it pointing to a change I need to make or a problem I need to solve? Or does it simply want to be processed?
It looks like cutting yourself some slack and saying, This is hard.
It could look like journaling about how you’re feeling, or using other creative outlets like coloring, painting, playing the piano, or penning a song about your pain.
Validating our emotions means listening to ourselves. Sometimes, we might not like what we hear. But we commit to being present nonetheless.
We commit to respecting our different, sometimes seemingly random, reactions. We commit to being thoughtful and intentional around our feelings, which is why we spend time reflecting on our emotions and trying to better understand them, instead of ignoring them and waiting until they bubble up and burst—and bulldoze over someone else.
This is not easy work. And so, we practice, and forgive, and try again. And again. And again.