We are not quite done with the topic of feelings. There is one more big kindness that you can show yourself around your feelings, and when you do it, it will make a world of difference in how you feel. This simple act of kindness is to actively validate your feelings.
This, of course, is easier said than done for most of us. In fact, I hear a litany of invalidation all day long as I sit with my clients:
“I shouldn’t feel this way, but…”
“I know I need to move on, but…”
“I don’t know why I’m still so sad, but…”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but…”
“I know I shouldn’t still be angry, but…”
“I don’t know why I’m not over this, but…”
Most of the time, my clients have no idea that they are invalidating their feelings. They are so used to doing it, so culturally brainwashed to believe that big feelings are an indicator that something is wrong with them, that the language of invalidation is unconsciously woven into their speech. The invalidation is spoken without their awareness.
Unfortunately, when we invalidate our feelings in this way, we increase our stress, thereby reinforcing the threat response in our bodies and putting ourselves at war with the natural processes of grief and loss that are trying to heal us. We keep ourselves stuck.
If instead, you greet your feelings with kindness, tenderness, and a validating spirit, an opening is created. There is suddenly space for those feelings to be felt, to be believed (because even though feelings are not facts they are information), and to be released.
Years ago, I was trained by Pia Mellody in her developmental trauma model. Pia has a wonderful phrase that she uses to describe what happens when we invalidate our feelings:
Explosive episodes of reality surfacing.
When we invalidate our feelings and tamp them down, we set ourselves up for an explosion. Instead of feeling our anger when it comes up and validating our anger by saying, “I am angry about _____, and I have a right to be angry,” we push it down and tell ourselves we should be over it by now. When we do this, the anger piles on top of other anger and begins to fester into resentment. Piled on top of the anger is now a layer of resentment from the belief that we aren’t supposed to be angry. Eventually, of course, our anger and resentment will surface, often as rage. Or, as Pia Mellody says, we have explosive episodes of reality surfacing.
When I am training therapists who are learning to work with betrayal trauma, they often tell me stories of ‘explosive episodes of reality surfacing’ with their clients. Breakables are thrown, the police are called, the neighbors can hear the shouting. I listen and nod and then say, “Yes, your client is having trouble feeling her anger.” When I say this, I usually get a pause, a blink or two of the eyes, and then a frown. The therapist will say, “No, I think she’s quite connected to her anger. I don’t think that’s what’s going on.”
And I will say, “No, she is having rage because she feels conflicted about her anger. Her anger is being suppressed and is also mixing with her shame, pain, sadness, powerlessness, and fear. And then it’s all surfacing as rage. You need to help her connect to and validate her anger as she feels it instead of suppressing it so she can express it from her most authentic self. She will come out of her rage only when she has permission to feel and express her anger freely and from her heart. Your job is to help her do that.”
This is true not just with anger. All of our feelings need to be validated, especially in the aftermath of betrayal when emotions become a hodge-podge that often makes no rational sense. If you feel drawn to your partner and want to make love with him, validate that feeling. Have safe sex and allow yourself to know that being drawn to someone who has betrayed you but is also the love of your life is normal and understandable. If you want nothing to do with your partner and want him to go away and give you space, validate those feelings. Your anger and pain are asking for time and room to be felt. Give yourself that. If you feel confused and uncertain, tell yourself, “Of course I feel this way, my world has just been turned upside down,” and allow those feelings to be real and present. If you feel sad, cry. If you feel lonely, reach out. If you feel shame, tell someone who loves you. If you feel pain, seek comfort. If you feel anger, speak it from your heart. If you feel love, share it.
Whatever you feel, meet that feeling with curiosity about what it is telling you, and allow it to be present. As I said earlier, feelings are not facts, and you don’t need to do anything with them other than letting them be present. But doing this very simple thing – validating your feelings – will change your life in powerful ways.