Dear Asian Youth,
How often do you hear the words “other people have it worse” as a response to your expressions of discomfort or frustration? Though the intent of these words may have been positive - to remind you of how lucky you are and cease all negative emotions - it doesn’t necessarily make things a whole lot better. Why? Because this commonly-used ‘comfort phrase’, along with many others, actually neglects or invalidates the emotions of the person in distress. Telling a struggling person that others are in more unfortunate situations merely suggests that this person’s struggles are insignificant in comparison. You cannot compare a person’s unique experience to someone else’s. It just doesn't work that way. This is a clear example of invalidation. According to Dr. Jamie Long, “Invalidation is the process of denying, rejecting or dismissing someone’s feelings. Invalidation sends the message that a person’s subjective emotional experience is inaccurate, insignificant, and/or unacceptable.”
2020 has been a tough year for many of us, which means thoughts and emotions are all over the place. At a time of crisis, being supportive of one another is extremely important. In most scenarios, we do not invalidate others on purpose. Invalidation is subtle. That is why we need to train ourselves to become more observant and empathetic. However, validation certainly does not mean you have to see completely eye-to-eye with the other person; it simply means that you are recognizing their emotions and allowing them to process a situation through their subjective perception. I want you to imagine this: Your close friend loses a straw-woven bracelet on a trip and starts sobbing in anguish. To you, that bracelet is just a roughly-done wrist decoration worn at the edges. Therefore, you casually toss out a “it’s just a bracelet, jeesh”. However, what you don’t know is that this bracelet was made by her younger sister for your friend’s birthday 5 years ago and has been treasured ever since. To your friend, this bracelet has special meaning. Without knowing it, you’ve dismissed her sadness about losing this prized possession that holds great significance. It is impossible to know how everyone is feeling at all times - this is why we need to be mindful of our words and how we interact with those around us.
As humans, we have a tendency to project our personal emotions and logic onto other people’s problems. It is completely normal and happens unconsciously. So instead of addressing a situation from your point of view right off the bat, ask questions and try to think in the other person’s shoes. Don’t go off with the “I don’t think it’s that bad” or the “I’ve seen worse” or the “just ignore it”, because there are all phrases that represent how YOU perceive an issue that does not impact YOU. Alternatively, inquire how the other person is feeling in regard to the problem and try to understand why they feel that way. After you think you have a solid understanding of what they think, provide them with support and comfort in a validating way. Always understand before you intervene! Try to say things along the lines of “I see where you are coming from” and “that must be hard for you”, then continue by asking them what you can do to make them feel better. At this point, do not, I repeat, do not, give unsolicited advice. Yes, I know, you’ve got to resist that savior complex. If the other person would like some advice, feel free to put your two cents in. But if they just need a shoulder to cry on, assume the role of a listener. All people want sometimes is to feel as though their emotions matter, and they do!
We are all guilty of using our own mindsets to try and solve other people’s problems, causing us to overstep our boundaries at times, myself included! In conversation, ask and comprehend before you judge and comment. I’m not saying you need to walk on eggshells around everyone; I am simply advising you all to try a different response that does not immediately invalidate the feelings of the other. On that note, happy new year and start validating the people you love!
Cover photo source: https://hbr.org/2018/10/ais-potential-to-diagnose-and-treat-mental-illness