Validation Isn’t Just For Parking Tickets

Image by Jason Rosewell @ Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, I reacted to something inappropriately – I dismissed something that my husband was feeling and I realised as soon as the words left my mouth what I had done, but by then of course it was a little late to take it back.

I’ve been having a lot of thoughts lately surrounding vulnerability and validation. I think vulnerability may come up more in its own post about the subject, but validation is so very important.

And I neglected that.

A bit of background information would be helpful here… My husband has an old Mk 2 Golf that is very much a project car. We have named her Christine after the Stephen King novel as she is, lets say, high maintenance? (Although she hasn’t tried to kill me yet, so I’m taking that as a bonus 😉)

Anyway, Christine has some relatively nice alloy wheels. On this particular Saturday we had to pop out to pick up some toilet seat hinges (such a glamourous life we lead!) and also a few grocery bits. However, before we got to Screwfix, my husband had to do a three-point turn which was tighter than anticipated and he scraped the front passenger side wheel on a curb. He got out to check and it had left ‘a huge gouge’ in the paint. He was pissed off – mostly at himself, but also because of all the time and effort he has put into that car, and now something else, so easily avoided had gone wrong. It had already been a hugely stressful week, he wasn’t looking forward to fixing the toilet seat, it was hot, we were tired and hungry etc etc…

We went around to the supermarket and as we got out of the car, he came around to take another look, I also looked and… I couldn’t see anything. I was expecting ‘a huge gouge’ out of the paint. I’m not into cars in the slightest, to me it just looked like a regular alloy wheel. He pointed it out to me – a scrape along the outside edge and… well, I did the worst thing I could possibly do, I laughed.

Not in a cruel way – I wasn’t laughing at him, but in more of a relived way. I told him that it wasn’t that bad and hardly noticeable. I did the one thing that I always try not to do, I minimised his feelings, I invalidated his concern.

Of course, this did nothing to improve his mood. I tried to explain to him that my initial reaction was just relief – for him – that it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. But it was too late – the fixing of the toilet seat when we got home was punctuated with swearing and the slamming down of screwdrivers, which was completely understandable. I hadn’t heard him, I hadn’t realised that actually, it wasn’t about the wheel at all.

It was a build up of things, of worry and anxiety that had filled our week off. It was the driving to and from Bristol which had stressed him out for a number of reasons. The additional driving down to Dorset to a specialist vets appointment which was anxiety inducing, hot and once again gave no real conclusion to an ongoing concern with our dog. It was the social obligations which had taken their toll, it was the thought of going back to work after not exactly having a relaxing time off. It was the lack of decent sleep on and off for a fortnight due to stress. It was the thought that Saturday and Sunday should have just been two days to finally chill out – and now because of an error of judgement, there was something else to ‘fix’.

But… it wasn’t my job to fix this situation, and it is never our jobs to fix other people’s problems. My job – which I neglected to notice – was just to hear his frustration. To recognise it, acknowledge it and act accordingly. Because when we feel heard we feel empowered, we may not realise it at the time, but we do realise when we aren’t heard and the space that it puts us in.

I should have said sorry and bought him chocolate 😊

My husband, upon reading it to this point

However, this ‘trying to make things better’ is something that I think we have all been guilty of at some point or another. Its horrible to see someone we love and/or care for upset, angry, or frustrated so we try and do what we can to bring them out of the situation. It can also sometimes be uncomfortable for us and so we want to move past those feelings quickly so that we can get on with our day and put whatever unfortunate happening that has just occurred behind us.

Is that selfish? No, I don’t think so. I think that we all experience uncomfortable feelings – definitely in adulthood but we would have done so as children as well. We all have our own feelings about feelings – I am uncomfortable with anger for example. If I am ever angry then I don’t know how to safely hold and sit with that emotion, and if someone is angry at me or around me then I don’t know how to react, so I go very quiet, very small and just take it. But we would have all had instances in childhood where we felt strong emotions – such as anger, resentment, sadness and also the extremes at the other end of the scale such as love, generosity and giddying waves of happiness. How those feelings were reciprocated by parents and caregivers when we were at the cognitive developmental stage where we didn’t know how to express ourselves, will undoubtedly shape how we learn to deal with them as adults. This also applies to when we see someone else expressing these emotions that we struggle with – we react in the ways that we were reacted to.

With the incident with the car, I just wanted to make it better for him – but he was also angry, and I didn’t know how to deal with that and so my innate reaction was to get us both out of that situation as quickly as possible.

It didn’t work – and why would it have done? Making light of the situation wouldn’t have made the scrape in the wheel go away. We could have held hands and laughed and skipped our way into Morrisons, but his feelings of frustration and anger would have still been there. The situation that caused the discomfort wouldn’t just disappear if we ignored it.

Our feelings – whatever they may be – need to be heard. Talking about feelings, with a partner, friend, parent, child etc is such an important step in honouring our true selves and opening up those bridges of communication. If I made my husband feel silly over the car or if I repeatedly tried to distract him or judged or minimised his feelings every time something went wrong – even if its not about a subject that I am particularly knowledgeable on – then he’s going to stop communicating when he is upset, and this won’t just apply to what is happening in the garage. However, it is also important to realise that his emotions aren’t mine – I don’t have to crouch down and hold my head in my hands and get angry and frustrated at instances like the scrape in the tyre, I just need to communicate that I can see that he is upset and angry and keep the dialogue going.

Instead of laughing, I could have said something like ‘Oh dear, that must make you feel frustrated’ – and then instead of storming off into the supermarket ahead of me, he perhaps would have said ‘Yes, I had just got the car how I want it/its going to take time to fix/but its not just that…’ etc. It would have opened up the space for him to communicate and to have his feelings heard.

It isn’t dangerous to have our feelings out in the open – even the ones that can feel really difficult to express.  No bolt of lightening is going to come and strike us down if we dare to actually feel these difficult emotions and communicate with each other about them, in fact, much the opposite will happen. Learning to recognise our feelings and our emotions for what they are allows us to be more in tune with ourselves and with those around us – it allows us to communicate honestly and openly and it teaches us that our emotions – whatever they may be – are valid. In turn, this plays an important role in being able to trust our own instincts, for example if we begin to recognise fear or unease for the emotion that it is – instead of squashing it down and ignoring it because ‘it doesn’t feel very nice’ – then we become better at protecting ourselves and those around us.

I’m not there yet with anger. I can now recognise it as something that I need to be mindful of and work on – and I am very fortunate that I have some wonderful friends and a wonderful husband that are more likely to encourage me to talk about my anger when I feel it and help me unpick it, rather than try and ‘fix’ it with platitudes, but these things do take time and a lot of patience. When I have been angry in the past and I have pushed it down and tried not to feel it because I have had that belief for 34 years that ‘anger is bad’ – where has it gone? It hasn’t come out of me, no, it has stayed and whispered in my ear that what I feel doesn’t matter, that what I feel is ‘wrong’, that what I feel makes me a bad person… and do you know what other name we have for that voice? Depression.

So, encourage people to talk – those that you love, those that you care about. Let them know that it is ok to feel what they are feeling and that no emotion – however hard it may be to experience is ‘wrong’. We cannot be shining beacons of light and grace at all times; life doesn’t work like that.

In order to appreciate the light, we must also experience the dark – and the dark can look different for each any every one of us.

Philippa Perry has written about this subject in her wonderful book ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will be Glad That You Did)’ and during my most recent round of therapy, I have found this book – and some of her talks on YouTube to be highly illuminating.

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7 thoughts on “Validation Isn’t Just For Parking Tickets”

  1. Great post, you’re absolutely right! It’s so important to listen and really notice how loved ones may be feeling. It’s definitely equally important to listen to our own emotions too, rather than just battle on. Oh, and chocolate always helps! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – validating our own emotions is also a very important point 🙂 Not brushing things off, all of these ‘difficult’ feelings will eventually come back to us at one time or another.

      Like

  2. Life is just one big stressful learning curve! All we can do is try our hardest to help each other through. We’re only human though and mistakes are made, that’s where chocolate comes into the equation 😆xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a great read! We all have our better and worse days, but this is why we need other people to support us. It is important to take the feelings of other people seriously. After all, we all want to feel valid and loved.

    Liked by 1 person

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