Tips to Not Undermine and Invalidate the Feelings of Another Person

(AKA: Tips on Not Doing What I’ve Had to Put up with All Week)

1. When a person complains to you, consider first the source of the complaint. For example, if they are talking about not being able to afford something, don’t instinctively assume that the desire for money is material in nature. Instead, question if lack of finances is actually a fear for lack of control or self-worth. Maybe it’s not about not getting to buy that PS4 but really about how their wealth reflects on their worth.

2. Never say it’s (going to be) okay. Of course it’s going to be okay. Of course they’re being irrational right now. They are experiencing feelings. Let them work it out emotionally before finding a solution to the problem. Consider feelings like a rollercoaster. It’s not safe to just jump off when it starts to speed up. Wait until the ride has ended before getting off and moving on.

3. In conjunction with number 2, do not normalize the situation and experience a person is complaining about. Telling a person in duress that everyone goes through this only causes the person to feel guilt for bringing attention to their experience. When someone is struggling in an uncomfortable situation and opening up to you about it, telling them that it’s okay because it’s a common experience distorts their perception of reality as they question whether their instincts are wrong.

4. Never assume that because you know what they’re going through that they should handle what they’re dealing with the same way you have. No two people are the same. Their individual reaction and following actions should not reflect yours. No matter how alike you are or how identical your feelings and situations may be, they are a different human being than you. Your solutions are not theirs. By suggesting they follow your footsteps, you neglect their personal identity and experience.

5. Just listen. It’s really, really not that hard. If you can’t think of something to say that would comfort them, let them know that you are listening with your body language or by simply saying so. Don’t feel like you have to say something right or encouraging or supportive. The words “I’m listening” and “I’m here with you” are enough to prevent the feeling of isolation. So just do that.

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