Validate your Mate!

Feeling left behind with the focus on the newest wave of disaster? Noticing someone else who is feeling left behind?

It has only been weeks since we were dealing with catastrophic fires, flood, and drought in Australia, in addition to the usual level of environmental, financial, security and social challenges our nation faces. All the while our personal lives can also have their moments. If you, or someone you know have been involved with any of the recent events, it might be possible those experiences are being overshadowed at present by COVID-19.

While this is uncharted territory and we are all trying our best to cope, be informed, minimise impact and make good decisions, it is also okay if you’re still reeling from other stuff. One of the best things that you can do is notice that you’re having some feelings and thoughts about other stuff that isn’t going away. That’s totally okay; its okay to not be okay in these times – cliched but so, so true.

It’s perfectly understandable that your attention is split or stuck in the past. It also may be possible that you are still sorting practical things out as a result of the past event – which dominates your time and mind. Perhaps sense of direction and purpose has been lost once the event is over. Perhaps you’re missing the sense of team and a common enemy that is part of being a first responder or security focused agency in times of crisis. Perhaps the intensity of what you were part of or witnessed has been too much for your mind to easily digest. Sometimes it can be as simple as being exhausted and emotionally drained- all that adrenaline has to go somewhere! Maybe you are noticing these things in other people too – your colleagues, your family.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with these things, one of the easiest and most helpful things can be to validate their/your emotions. Research proves supportive language is important in reducing the intensity of emotions and increasing receptiveness to support. What this means is that if you can be gentle, respectful and curious in the way your address the (unwanted/undesired) feelings, there is a demonstrated reduction of their burden on you. And I don’t know one person that doesn’t want to lighten the load of heavy and uncomfortable emotions!

If you want your words to matter and to help others or to alleviate your own struggle, ensure that you’re not being overly controlling or using arguments to convey your message, like “cheer up” or “don’t be sad”. This style of message is seen to lack ‘argument strength’, so it gets rejected, or worse, it reduces social support seeking. Insensitive social support attempts, even if they are well intended, can exacerbate the thought or feeling and can create a new set of secondary thoughts/feelings about the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of the original feeling.

Instead, make space for the feelings and thoughts. ‘Make space’ is letting someone talk without judgement or interrupting; same can be said about making space for your own internal experience. So how do you ‘do’ validating support? Recognise, acknowledge, be person-centred, help them explore why they might be feeling that way (NB. there isn’t always a clear, logical reason). Try using language that shows care and concern. If you do this- it is perceived to result in emotional improvement and encourages further engagement in social support.

Validate your Mate! Validating statements include:

“It’s fair enough that you feel that way”

“I see where you’re at right now”

“It’s hard hey?”

“geez, you must be angry”

“damn, I know how much that meant to you”

“that’s messed up” (or stronger language)

Or just simply “tell me more…”

Be careful to not get too much into advice-giving or story telling of your own stuff that might be similar to the other person’s experience. Truly and genuinely validating someone for their needs is being ‘present’ for them- not competing with them, unless they ask you. Someone once told me when listening to someone who is struggling to WAIT (“Why Am I Talking?”) if your supporting someone else but doing all the talking, the balance is off.

Of course, you are not meant to be a substitute for professional help if someone’s struggle is beyond the scope of how you can support them. Likewise, knowing in yourself that you might need to put your hand up is important, and all too often the delay in making that call tends to impact on the severity and recovery time.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Article courtesy of Fortem Australia’s in-house psychologist, Natasha.