Ever had a conversation with someone about something that was very real to you only for them to turn around and negate your experiences because how you felt was not their experience? Well, that is exactly what happened in a recent conversation! To be honest, I was aware this happened and I was guilty of it myself – but this particular incident stood out and it forced me to pay attention to how people treat us as well as how we treat others. In a recent conversation with an acquaintance of mine, she mentioned how she had had to give up some of her career ambitions to raise a family. I could relate, because my sacrifices were opposite to her experiences but I understood to some extent how she felt. I could see some regret and anger in her eyes as she spoke of her experience – and even though I knew how much this person loved her family, I could also see the dreams that she thought had died because of her choices in her eyes as she spoke about them. In that same week, I had the chance to speak to a young mother who was navigating work and a new baby. I remember listening to what she was saying and to be honest, I could see where she was coming from replaying my conversation with the other lady and I offered some brutally honest feedback. For most women, they can never have it all – for many, certain sacrifices would have to be made to achieve what they want. Not long after my conversation with this young mother, I was talking to another woman, who was older about the sacrifices women had to make either for family or career and before I could finish, this person cut me off to assert that this is not the case!
I was surprised that this person would invalidate the experiences of many people because that was not her experience – so I kept my mouth shut and decided to drop the matter. Because while I understood that not every woman would have these challenges, it did not mean that the experiences of those who had to give up so much for either their career or family were not important or nonexistent. I truly understood that saying – privilege blinds! As I thought about this, I realised that people, myself included, sometimes trivialise the experiences and feelings of others because they are not our experiences or we are uncomfortable to understand their truth so we dismiss them. I started re-playing certain conversations I had had in the past to find out if I was guilty of this same thing and I was – as well as situations where others had done the same to me. A perfect example I found was about people that always told me marriage was hard work – my answer most times had been, “well if it is so hard then why are you still married?” Yeah, not a very nice answer! People were talking about their experiences and I did not take the time to understand what they were saying but simply brushed it aside and questioned their actions or lack of when I had never walked in their shoes. Then I also remembered instances where I had had conversations with people who had told me that they hate it when certain minorities played the ‘race card’. I remember asking one of such people if they had ever taken time to understand the past experiences of these people that had led them to this place? The blank look on the face of one of such persons confirmed what I suspected all along – in order to not feel any guilt, the feelings/experiences of a large group of people are constantly invalidated..
I had someone get in touch recently who had fallen out with someone dear to them – this reader shared that they were normally agreeable to most of the things this other person said and did, however, there was one incident that unravelled this friendship. This lady shared that for sometime, she had been pursuing a certain goal and had not been successful in achieving this. For years, she worked hard towards this goal only to fail year after year. On the verge of almost giving up, her friend introduced another lady who was pursuing the same goal and they buddied up to work towards this goal. The other lady achieved the goal in no time and our reader was once again looking at another failure. It was not long before she started hearing stories from mutual friends on how the other ladies were mocking her behind her back – so she started keeping her distance. Not long after deciding to keep her distance, she was called by her close friend who wanted her to know that the other lady who had aced her test had told her that she was keeping her distance because she was jealous. Our reader said she immediately knew what side her friend had taken and from her tone, she was not willing to listen to things from her perspective. She was hurt and went to a mutual friend of theirs to express how what her friend had said had made her feel – their mutual friend decided to mediate and it was at this mediation that she decided to end her friendship.
When their mutual friend brought up how the behaviour of this friend had made this reader feel, she immediately went on the defensive and started listing everything she had done to assist her friend and how our reader had not really contributed to their friendship like she had. Our reader was hurt, because through the years, she had supported this friend through loss, happy moments and countless times when she had had to go out of her way to assist this friend. She narrates that she decided to not say anything to keep the peace, however, it was the mutual friend that mediated that drew her attention to how her friend had invalidated her feelings and reduced their friendship to what she could get from it. This mediator also drew her attention to the fact that she could see that this friend was sorry that she had been caught talking behind our reader, but instead of apologising, she made it all about her and refused to acknowledge how her actions had affected others. Armed with this information, she cut all ties with this person and started moving in different circles. She would eventually go on to achieve this goal that had eluded her all those years but most importantly, she was wiser and had set boundaries for all new friendships. She also mentioned that, one lesson that had stayed with her after this incident was to always speak up about how she felt and if anyone invalidated her, to leave them be if the relationship was not important to her or speak up and draw the attention of those in her life to how their invalidation made her feel. And good on her, because we all need to learn that.
When people tell us how they feel, it is not our place to invalidate or minimise their experience. I understand that people are sometimes not sincere but we must be careful how we respond to people. When people are sad, we should not always be quick to tell them not to be sad or brush aside people’s reaction to an incident by telling them they over reacted. When dealing with emotional people, it is not okay to tell them to stop being sensitive – and I am guilty of this one and working on myself to understand that people are different and respond to things differently. I am learning that if I am not able to fully understand the experiences of others, to take a step back and think through what is being shared thoroughly before I say anything. Sometimes it is hard because we want to fix situations for others by fixing how they feel – but we must respect people enough to acknowledge how they feel and help them to see things differently if we can. A close friend of mine lost her mother recently and when I called on her, she was inconsolable. I heard people around telling her that she should stop crying because everything would be okay, however, I chose to use my experience to affirm her feelings. I told her about how years ago, I had believed the same lies that everything would be okay and therefore not allowing myself to grieve my mother properly when she passed. I told my friend my truth that the pain of the loss never healed, but I learned to cope better with time – she was allowed to grieve.
Thank you for always taking the time to read, like, comment and share your experiences – let’s effect the change we need by sharing our experiences.
2 thoughts on “Ever had people invalidate your feelings?”
Empathy is the word! It runs through all areas of life, one of the reasons why depression is on the increase.
We should realise we all deal with situations differently; my strengths are not the same as yours. When I share a challenge with you, just listen and refrain from judging me as being weak or not dealing with it how you would
Thanks for sharing
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