Responding to Others’ Feelings

We all want to have our feelings validated. This is a great tool for being present with other people and demonstrating that we understand how the other person feels. You aren’t trying to fix the problem or tell the person that they shouldn’t feel that way. Instead, you witness their emotions and show them that you are listening, that their feelings matter, and that you understand. You might also share a similar experience you’ve had to help demonstrate that you understand how they might be feeling.

A good example of this is to imagine if you had recently lost a loved one or a beloved pet. You are probably feeling a great deal of sadness about the loss. If you expressed sadness to a friend, and the person replied to you by saying, “At least he lived a long life,” or “He’s in a better place now,” or “Be grateful for the memories you have,” then you might feel like the person is telling you not to feel sad — that you should feel grateful. It does not feel good to be told how to feel. Instead, you probably want them to validate your feelings and demonstrate empathy and understanding by saying something like, “I’m so sorry! Grief is very painful for me, too. I miss the person and have a great deal of sadness when someone I love dies. I’m here for you if you ever want to talk about it.”

Another example is when someone expresses anger to you. Suppose that someone says, “I can’t believe that you did this to me! How could you?” Disputing the facts can be perceived as telling the person that s/he should not feel that way. Saying, “But that’s not what happened” can lead to an argument because the person may feel like you are telling him/her that they shouldn’t be feeling that way. This is usually not effective, because the person’s feelings are being invalidated. Even if you don’t agree with how the person is feeling or the person’s perception of things, it is best that you not try to talk them out of feeling that way. A more effective way of responding to someone else’s anger is to say, “I understand that you feel angry right now. What I did seems unfair to you. I feel angry when I think I am being treated unfairly, too.” Demonstrating your empathy and understanding might be the best way to help resolve the problem.

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