Dealing with Invalidation when Sadness Fits the Facts

My favorite DBT skills lesson is Emotion Regulation Worksheet 8A – Examples of Emotions That Fit the Facts. It’s one of the first worksheets I share with my new clients.  I tell them to go home and make flashcards, do whatever they need to do to memorize this page.  Because this is one that will begin to change their life. 

Very few of us have actually ever been provided with much information about our emotional experience.  Even though emotions are a universal aspect of being human – we don’t have a designated place outside of therapy for learning about them.

(Side note: Want to think about truly changing the world? Go talk to your local Jr/High School about incorporating DBT skills instruction. Let’s teach kids about their emotions and how to control them effectively!)

The worksheet provides clear definitions for when each of 9 primary emotions is “justified” or “fits the facts.”  This is hugely important for 2 reasons:

  1. It helps you to self-validate your emotional experience. Instead of relying on outside reinforcement that it is “OK” or appropriate to feel the way you feel, you have a framework to objectively assess your experience.   
  2. When an emotion doesn’t fit the facts (or is way more intense than the situation calls for) than it’s a clue that you’ve hit on some old stuff.  You know you’ve got some lingering damage that needs to be addressed because it is affecting your current emotional state.  That’s ok – because now you have awareness which means you are ready address the old trauma and break its grip on you.

I recently ended a fairly tumultuous relationship.  By all accounts it was far from healthy.  However, the care and love I had for this person were very, very real.  The grief I have experienced this past month has been all permeating for me. 

So today, I thought I’d share some thoughts about sadness, grief & validation.

According to our Fit the Facts Worksheet
Sadness is a justified emotion when:
You have lost something(one) permanently
or
Things are not the way you wanted or expected and hoped them to be.

By this definition sadness is almost always a “justified” emotion in DBT terms.  Because hope, expectations and wants are all very personal and subjective experiences.  

However, sadness tends to be one of our most invalidated emotions culturally.  I think there are two main factors at play that contribute to this.  

Many of us were conditioned to be uncomfortable in the presence of any suffering.  Can you recall a parent or teacher telling you to wipe your tears? Often it is because they did not want to be in the presence of a person that is hurting – crying makes people uncomfortable.  Lots of us have had literally zero modeling of how to be with another person in distress.  

Some people believe that using logic to invalidate your sadness can help to alleviate it.  For example reminding you of all the negative things that happened in a relationship or telling you to think on the positive side that you now are free to seek better opportunities.  

Coincidentally both of these approaches tend to have the effect of actually increasing emotional distress because they are invalidating.  They do not express understanding and acceptance of your current state of suffering.

I am lucky (ok more like deliberate) that my tribe is composed of incredibly validating individuals who have delved deeply in their own journeys of self-awareness.  I am surrounded by those who are willing to just be present with my sadness.  They have not passed judgment for the time I chose to spend with this person but have seen that it was a necessary chapter in my journey last year.  

I am beyond grateful for the support I have received.  And often do not feel like I am deserving of it.  I know that my period of post relationship wallowing has been shortened because these individuals have been willing to witness me in all of my raw grief.  

I also understand for many this is not the case.  There have been times in my life where I did not have this amazing network of support lean into.  What if you’re tribe isn’t inherently validating like mine? For sure that it is harder path to be on!! AND (as we say in DBT emphasizing the additional) it is an opportunity to find even deeper levels of growth through your sadness!!  

This is a chance to connect with your voice and clearly express boundaries about acceptable communication.  This can be especially hard in close relationships (parents, significant others) or when you believe the person is truly acting out of good intentions. If you are having anxiety over expressing your needs try using DBT’s DEAR skill.

Describe the situation – I can tell you are trying to ease my sadness about the end of my relationship by reminding me of the negative things I have shared about it with you in the past.
Express what you are feeling – However, this makes me even more sad because you are not seeing how much I am missing him right now.
Assert your needs – It would be more helpful to me if you could just give me space to share my feelings of disappointment and frustration without trying to change how I am feeling at the moment.
Reinforce – I appreciate you being a supportive friend and loving member of my tribe.

Practice self-validation.  Only you know the extent of your hopes, dreams and wishes regarding this loss. Often times it is not the person themselves that we are grieving the hardest, but our idea of what the future could have brought.  Practice sitting with your sadness and allowing it to pass over you like waves.  Emotions come and go naturally like the the tide in ocean.

We have been so conditioned to run from emotional pain –grab a drink, a cigarette, numb into TV IG or gaming, or maybe a quick fuck.  Anything to get away from the pain.  But what happens when we can be present in our sadness?  Usually, when we actually give our self space to experience it, it will dissipate fairly quickly.  It is when we try to stuff it down that it continues to seep into every aspect of our lives. 

It can be helpful to say validating statements out loud.  
It is ok that I am grieving.  This fucking hurts Jamie!
 It won’t always hurt this bad.  You are strong enough to handle this pain.  
All of these have come out of my lips in the past month. 

Remember to practice non-judgmental stance as you go about your journey.  We each grieve on our own unique timetable. Acknowledge that your spirit needs time to heal.   Give yourself space.  Allow the tears to flow.  Even in the loss of things we know are not good for us, the pain can still be devastating. 

It will pass.  It always does.  Post nubile maxima, Phoebus.  The sun always returns after the darkest clouds.

Sending you love and light and strength to face your sadness on the dark days!
xoxo,
Jamie

If you are interested in learning the DBT skills, I offer DBT skills coaching in a variety of formats.  Head over to jamieschmidtlpc.com to get more info or schedule a consultation. 

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Published by Jamie Schmidt, LPC

Just a human being on a journey of self discovery. Psychology + Spirit + Healing

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