Emotional Invalidation

Dear Asian Youth,

“I’m so tired today, I went to bed at 2 A.M. last night.”

“You’re so lucky! I wish I got that many hours of sleep, I was up till 3.”

These are typical conversations I often find myself a part of, and I only recently realised how detrimental these words can be. When my friends talk about their struggles— a lack of sleep or an upcoming event they are dreading—I’m often compelled to interject with my own struggles and share how I get even less sleep, or if I have something even worse happening as if it is a competition.

Empathy is understanding and feeling what someone else is going through. But these aforementioned exchanges differ from empathy in that it dismisses the other person’s feelings and is ultimately counterproductive. That’s not being relatable or empathetic—that’s treating their struggles with disdain because you don’t think it is a significant enough problem.

With the transition to a new year, many people have been reflecting on the hardships of this past year, leading many people, including celebrities, to speak out about how they have been affected by the pandemic. However, a lot of them have received backlash because surely they don’t deserve to complain when they don’t understand what it’s like to be on the front lines of the pandemic, lose their only source of income, or not have a safe place to live. But when we do that, we are telling them they aren’t allowed to acknowledge how this pandemic has hurt them. While not everyone has been hurt to the same degree, everyone has lost something or someone, and we are all entitled to feel dejected and grieve. We shouldn’t require someone to experience the worst this pandemic has to offer to allow them to speak on it.

This kind of invalidation is particularly prevalent in mental health issues as it often contributes to them. It tells a person that their experience is insignificant, and over time deters people from reaching out and getting help because they don’t have a right to complain and are being too sensitive or dramatic. This cultivates self-doubt and is particularly harmful to those with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety as when people are ashamed of their feelings, they believe they can’t be emotionally authentic to be accepted. When we deny people the ability to feel a certain way or tell them how they should feel, we are also denying them the rich, honest, vulnerable, complex emotional range that makes us human.

You don’t need to feel guilty for being discontent by something, even if you are generally more well-off. Your feelings are valid simply because they are your feelings—that’s all it is. If you are experiencing something, you are allowed to feel a certain way about it. You don’t need to experience the absolute worst of something to be qualified to talk about your experience with it, and the fact that “other people have it worse” does not mean your feelings are any less real. Your feelings are not insignificant; they’re valid and they matter and the things you care about shape who you are. It’s what makes you human—don’t stifle them.

– Erika

Cover Photo Source: Medium