When we affirm each other’s feeling, we affirm the right to feel, which is a key thing for good self esteem. We may also be affirming the right to be different. In accepting and honouring each other’s feelings, we have the chance to properly know and understand each other. We don’t oblige the people around us to only express the things we are comfortable with. Undertaken as a small, everyday activity, affirming each other in this way enriches and deepens relationships.
My personal feeling is that no emotion is ever wrong. How we express it may be open to question, but a genuine, felt response is what it is. Sometimes what I feel doesn’t make much sense to anyone else. It can be easy to hurt, shame or ridicule me when this happens. I’m used to being told I over-react or that I make no sense and am ridiculous. I’m also very aware of what happens when dealing with people who don’t rubbish me. When I’m allowed to explain so that I do make more sense, or when my not making sense is acceptable. When I’m given that space I feel more like a real person and more able to navigate.
Telling people off for doing drama and being irrational is a really quick way to shut someone down. We don’t all come to a situation with the same perspective. Some of us have triggers. Some of us are carrying terrible baggage. Some of us are panicked overthinkers, able to see potential problems others would never imagine. Most of us who are this way have got here through experience – it may be out of date knowledge but it most certainly isn’t irrational or unfounded. I note that the people who have done me most harm in life have also been the quickest to rubbish my feelings.
Listening to each other is powerful. Being willing to admit that you don’t understand, is powerful. Acknowledging that something doesn’t have to make sense to you for it to be real, is powerful. Ask how the people around you feel, and let them speak. Don’t argue with people if you think they *shouldn’t* feel a certain way – instead, show them respect by acknowledging this is what they’ve got as a starting point. Let people be as they are, and they can be honest with you.
So many things are more tolerable and possible to get through if you are allowed to be yourself while doing it. Being told off for how you feel is an identity-wounding experience. It’s often inflicted on people who are grieving and who hear that they should be over it by now. Depressed people are told to pull themselves together. Anxious people are told to stop making a fuss. None of those instructions alleviate distress, they just protect the person seeing it from having to keep on seeing it. My discomfort at your pain is more important than your pain – nothing devalues a person like treating them this way.
When we take each other seriously, we can lift each other up. But what, I hear you ask, do we do about the people who manufacture drama, and make a fuss, and over react, because that happens…? My guess is that where this is true (and I think it often isn’t) you’re dealing with someone who desperately needs attention. If they get attention on a day to day basis and are treated like their ordinary feelings matter, there may be a lot less incentive for the manufactured stuff. If the need for drama comes from wounding, dismissal or feelings of having no personal power otherwise, the affirmation of being taken seriously is the one thing most likely to shift this. If you’re going to challenge someone, it’s a good deal more effective if you know what’s going on with them first. Out of date coping mechanisms can need challenging, but it helps when that’s done kindly.
Whatever is going on with a person, no one becomes better, or more functional as a consequence of having their feelings rubbished and ignored. It is however an effective way of silencing complaint and distress, which is why rubbishing the victim’s responses is a normal part of bullying and abuse.