By Punya Srivatsava
When others are going through a meltdown, the biggest gift we can give them is to validate their emotions without reaction or judgement, says Punya Srivastava
Once there was a fight at home – one of those oft-repeated ones. I had just stepped inside, tired after a long day at work. Earlier, it would have taken me a fraction of a second to jump into the fray, point out how such fights disturbed family harmony, and add more fuel to the fire. But strangely, that day I quietly went to my room, freshened up, took my dinner and set about eating it silently. I could hear the shouting match going on but miraculously, nothing impacted me. Unlike before, I was not making mental judgements about which party was right, nor did I have the urge to rebuke them for disrupting family peace. I was simply there; just being. Similarly, quite recently, a close friend suddenly called me up and started ranting about some unresolved issues between us. I just listened to her with patience, allowing her all the space and time she needed to vent her emotions.
These are two different situations. With my family, I was not directly involved in the situation, yet it had the potential to tamper with my peace. With my friend, I was directly in the line of fire. However, in both situations, I chose to stay silent, waiting for the emotions to be spent fully. This doesn’t imply that I have overnight changed from being a participant to an observer. But yes, these two incidents made me sit up and ponder over the significance of being a patient as well as compassionate listener. On further self-examination, I realised that I have carried this trait since childhood; and that it has helped me avoid ugly confrontations and dramatic blame games. There are only a few people with whom I react, most of them my family members, rather than respond.
And this gap between ‘reacting’ and ‘responding’ is what I call providing emotional validation.
Emotional validation is the message you give to the speaker that his feelings and emotions make sense, and that you not only hear him but also understand why he feels the way he does. “You are not bad or wrong or crazy for feeling the way you do,” goes the message. It is an effective and less intrusive method of helping the person reflect on the source of his feelings. Haven’t we all experienced that moment when we let the emotionally charged person complete his or her ranting session without interruption, only to hear “Oh, that felt nice” or maybe, “Did I really say all those things?”
Ankita Singh, quality analyst at a Gurgaon-based MNC, recalls her emotional turmoil when a colleague she was attracted to, was shifted to a new office location. “This meant that I would not be able to see him as much as I used to. I was in tears at the thought,” she says. She called up a friend who she knew would understand. He silently listened to all that she had to say and simply said, “I am sorry to hear that you will not meet him often. But don’t worry, I am still here. You cry if you want to, because crying is just as normal as smiling.” Says Ankita, “His words gave me a sense of relief. I felt lighter and better that he accepted what I was saying and did not provide me with a solution. He simply accepted the fact that I was sad and let me be. It instantly calmed me down.”
Often, we are so hurt or upset by what others say to us that we never seek to understand what makes them feel like this. When people vent, it is because they are longing for someone to listen to them unconditionally. People often need to hear that what they are going through is acceptable, especially when they are overwhelmed by strong feelings. They are not looking for solutions as much as they are to share their story with someone who would not judge them.
Most of all, they need to know that they are loved and accepted even when they are being their most reactive, negative and miserable selves. When another extends the acceptance they themselves are unable to give themselves, it starts a process of healing in the deepest part of themselves.
Lack of validation
“People don’t let others express their negative emotions as they themselves have not been able to work through their own. Only when we understand, accept, tolerate and express our negative emotions constructively can we extend this space to others. Otherwise, we are scared to face negative emotions whether they belong to us or others, and use several defence mechanisms to fight the experience of negativity,” says Pulkit Sharma, consultant clinical psychologist and psychoanalytical therapist at Imago-Centre for Self, Delhi.
In our society, and many others across the world, there is no safe channel to express negative or uncomfortable emotions. “It starts in childhood, when we are repeatedly told not to cry or get angry, and to be strong. Thus, we tend to categorize these emotions as ‘bad’ and suppress them,” says Amrisha Ahuja, clinical hypnotherapist and healing artist at The Healing Island, Delhi. She adds, “Having suppressed these emotions, we resist them when others express them, and immediately try to make a sad person happy, or console someone who is crying. What we can’t accept in ourselves, we can’t accept in others,” says she.
Additionally, people fear that giving vent to their negative feelings may cause them to appear weak, and so they tutor their kids from a very early age to withhold their emotions, particularly in the case of boys. “If we see a man cry, our first thought is ‘what a sissy,’” shares Dr Seema Anand, founder of Look Beyond, and a Delhi-based energy healer, adding, “This is what makes us appear non-sympathetic when it comes to validating others’ emotions as well.”
Furthermore, we don’t allow others to express their negative emotions because we are fearful of our own reaction to them. “As humans, we only seek two emotions, i.e., love and approval. Negative emotions don’t form a part of any of these, hence the refusal to face them,” adds Delhi-based soul coach and HR consultant Hitesh Vashisht. Another major factor is the fast pace of life where we often do not have the time to deal with others’ emotions, making us appear indifferent.
Validation helps both evolve
When we let others ‘be’ their emotions, we let them become vulnerable before us. Also, we let ourselves be vulnerable to that emotion which might have been caused by us. It helps us soften up. It helps us express our emotions instead of merely reacting. Being an emotional validator is about accommodating others’ feelings. It helps us to be non-judgemental. This creates great compassion – for the self and others. “Allowing the other to express their emotions authentically often leaves the listener with a certain sense of centredness to be able to hold the space of freedom and non-judgmental sharing,” says Amrisha.
However, it does get a bit difficult to keep judgements out of the conversation when tempers are flying high, or emotions are flooding the atmosphere. “The best strategy in this scenario is to be aware of our own reaction and ask if it is really needed right now. Am I able to separate myself from my own feelings and emotions and be available to the other and his feeling state?” suggests Sugandh Gupta, a Delhi-based psychologist providing behavioural training to organisations.
The practice of emotional validation also requires giving ample space to the other to express their anger, despair, sadness or unhappiness. In order to be able to do this we need to achieve a certain level of detachedness, by tapping into the zone of our ‘True Self’ – that Self which believes in responding and not reacting. “It opens our heart centre, allowing us to share our love with one and all,” observes Hitesh.
Pulkit says, “A lot of our emotional, relational and spiritual difficulties arise because we are accustomed to thinking of ourselves and others as separate beings. When we validate the negative emotions of others we feel connected to them, and we realize that we are not separate beings but part of something universal. It helps us transcend our narrow ego.”
I learnt to provide validation by observing my paternal uncle and his wife. As both were headstrong, their exchanges generated a lot of friction. However, after practicing Raj yog meditation, I observed that both of them had learnt to listen patiently as well as to respond. The ‘yous’ have been replaced with ‘wes’ and ‘shoulds’ with ‘coulds’. And their world is much happier now.
To allow others to express their emotions without inhibitions we need to start with the self. If I don’t allow others to express themselves minus inhibitions, it is a clear indication of my inhibiting my own self-expression. Can we learn to accept ourselves and therefore accept others?
Anupama Sharma, a Delhi-based pranic healer, says, “I reached this level of acceptance by constantly working upon myself. I am able to give that space of validation to people because I have myself gone through such feelings of non-acceptance and evolved to the other side of the fence, by forgiving and accepting my negative emotions.” According to her, one has to first look within, fill the gaping holes and then only will one be able to be there for others.
It is not easy to be in a situation where the ire is directed at you, and yet be composed enough to listen to it all. The first thing we can do is to calmly and keenly listen to the words, and recognize the emotion behind them. And then relate to it. For instance, when my friend was expressing her anger, I identified with her anger and related to it because I have felt angry innumerable times. Next, you might like to ask yourself how you felt at that particular instance. Putting yourself in the other’s shoes allows your compassion to flow and see the situation from their point of view. When the angle changes, one is able to accept the confronting emotion much easily. However, the most difficult part is to face accusations levelled at you. This is when one has to choose between the relationship and winning the argument. This makes it easier to respond to the hurled accusations maturely and compassionately.
Being a patient listener is another vital requirement. One should whole heartedly and keenly listen to the other, instead of mentally preparing one’s next retort or line of defense. Hitesh goes a step further and insists that the key is deep listening. “In deep listening, our objective is to be a channel of love and compassion for others. Our ability to deeply listen to them rises manifold when we move outside our story and step inside the story of others. This heals and transforms both the parties involved,” he shares.
At our most vulnerable moments, words of affection, a loving gaze, or an accepting silence are all we need to heal. These are also the most precious gifts we can give the other.
Pic1 Caption: Amrisha Ahuja: Society restricts expression of negative emotions
Pic2 Caption: Hitesh Vashisht: Our resistance to negative emotions makes us defensive
Pic3 Caption: Listening deeply earned Anupama Sharma a friend
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