Okay, let’s talk.
If your idea of “comforting” someone is through invalidating any frustrations or negative feelings they have at the moment? That ain’t it, chief.
The first step to empathy, I find, is by acknowledging the fact that sucky things happen.
Here’s what I mean:
Person A: “I can’t believe this! I asked you – very clearly – when you need this proposal so I can set a deadline and manage my tasks. And now you’re telling me you don’t need it in a week but tomorrow? This is so frustrating.”
Person B: “Uh-huh yeah sure. But you know, I heard that guy from the other department with the scary boss needed to submit his report within the day. I’m just saying there are worse things out there.”
That scene you just read? Nuh-uh. Don’t you ever be Person B*.
That was literally just a super specific version of, Stop complaining! Think of the hungry kids in Africa!
See here’s the thing.
When it comes to feelings, context don’t matter so much.
Someone could be going through an extremely emotional day because they just lost their job. And somewhere at that same moment, someone else could be going through a similarly extremely emotional day because they just lost their pet parrot. And you know what? The griefs both of these people felt from the loss they experience are equally valid.
Because any emotion you’re feeling is valid.
I find that whenever we’re feeling positively over something, regardless of how huge or small that thing may be, no one really questions those feelings. People smile or laugh or ugly dance along with you. But then, whenever we’re feeling negatively over something, it’s somehow a different story.
People analyze or rationalize or contextualize when actually, sucky moments are the time to empathize.
If someone feels angry about something you did, you don’t get to decide whether or not that something is a small thing.
If someone shares how stressed they are at work or school or life, you don’t respond with “Be grateful. At least you still have work or still go to school or still alive.”
If someone is having a hard time, you don’t belittle their struggle by telling them it’s easy.
If someone is dealing with problems, you don’t redirect by saying your problems are worse.
Even though that someone’s emotions are valid on their own and as they are, one way you could give them the emotional validation they may be looking for is by letting them know you hear them and that Feeling the Suck… sucks. Because as a fellow human being, you also probably most likely experienced Feeling the Suck. And it does suck.
So next time somebody shares their sucky feelings to you, channel your inner Zuko.
This post is brought to you by Angry Kate. Starting the first draft of this is when I realized… angry writing is actually quite a thing. Special thanks to Calmed Down Kate for doing the edits.
Featured photo is by Morteza Yousefi in Unsplash