How to Avoid It and What to Say Instead:
When someone loses a loved one, they experience a range of emotions such as grief, sadness, anger, guilt, or shock. These emotions are natural and normal, and they need to be acknowledged and respected but sometimes, people who try to console someone may unintentionally invalidate their feelings, making them feel worse and even damage the relationship. This is known as “emotional invalidation” – the act of dismissing or rejecting someone’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. It says to someone: “Your feelings don’t matter” or “Your feelings are wrong.”
Emotional invalidation can make you feel unimportant or irrational. It can take many forms and could happen at any time. Some people do it accidentally when trying to cheer you up by saying: “Everything happens for a reason” or “It happened for the best.” Though this type of emotional invalidation is done with well-meaning intentions, it doesn’t make it hurt any less. No matter how it happens, emotional invalidation can create confusion and distrust.
People most often invalidate someone simply because they’re unable to process that person’s emotions. They might be preoccupied with their own problems or not know how to respond in the moment. Emotional invalidation can sometimes look like problem-solving rather than an attempt to show an understanding of the other person’s experience.
Emotional invalidation can cause a number of consequences, like confusion, self-doubt, and distrust in your own emotions. People who feel their emotions are invalidated often hide their emotions and develop a false self that conforms to others’ expectations. People who experience emotional invalidation may internalise the message that they are not worthy of respect or love. This could erode trust and intimacy in a relationship and lead to resentment and conflict. Unfortunately, emotional invalidation could also trigger or worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety in the bereaved.
If you want to support someone who is grieving, you need to avoid emotional invalidation and practice the acceptance of a person’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In doing this, your words would convey that the grieving person’s feelings do matter, and are understandable. Emotional validation can help someone feel heard, understood, and cared for. It can also strengthen your relationship and foster trust and empathy. To avoid emotional invalidation and practice emotional validation, we suggest that you:
- Pay attention to what the person is saying and show interest with your body language and eye contact.
- Paraphrase what the person said and check for accuracy. For example, “It sounds like you’re feeling very angry about what happened.”
- Express empathy and show that you understand how the person feels and why they feel that way.
- Don’t criticize or blame the person for their feelings or actions.
- Don’t downplay or dismiss the person’s feelings or experience.
- Avoid giving advice and don’t try to fix the person’s problem or tell them what to do. For example, don’t say “You should just move on” or “You should be grateful for what you have.”
- Ask open-ended questions that encourage the person to express themselves more fully and explore their feelings. For example, ask “How are you coping with this?” or “What do you need right now?”
- Respect boundaries by not forcing the person to talk if they don’t want to, or pressure them to feel differently than they do. For example, say “I’m here for you whenever you’re ready to talk” or “It’s OK to feel whatever you’re feeling.”
Here are some examples of validating phrases that you can say to someone who is grieving:
- I’m so sorry for your loss.
- I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.
- You have every right to feel this way.
- I’m here to listen if you want to talk.
- You’re not alone in this.
- You don’t have to go through this by yourself.
- I care about you and I want to support you.
- You’re doing the best you can.
- There’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Take your time and go at your own pace.
Emotional validation is the core of a healthy relationship, whether it is a close family member, a distant relative, a friend, or a colleague. Sonja Smith Funeral Group encourages respect for the grieving person’s pace and style of coping.
For more information about handling grief, supporting a loved one, or funeral arrangements, visit our website at https://sonjasmith-funerals.co.za/