I dislike using the term ´emotional validity´ because it sends mixed messages. At the ontological level (the nature of being), it claims that emotions are real. And at the normative level, it is taken to mean that those real emotions are accurate. But they´re not the same thing.
In this piece, I wear multiple hats: facilitator, spiritualist, political scientist, person – and so on. It´s a little more discursive and explorative, so you´re not going to find hard and fast answers here.
When we talk about something being valid, we talk about how it is accurately representative, legitimate, legally acceptable, sound and so on. It comes from the root word ´validus´ – which means ´strength´ in Latin.
When we talk about emotional validity, we refer to the process of accepting a person´s feelings for what they are. Though we do not need to agree with those emotions and feelings.
The ideal use of the term understands that it is about acceptance of a person´s right to feel what they feel. But not to see those emotions as being accurate or representative of themselves, or of others.
And that´s where things get messy.
Because validation is not purely about the right to be, but also a reference to accuracy and strength / solidity – it carries with it undertones that can easily be mis-used in an emotional context.
As a facilitator, I see many different kinds of individuals – all with their own stories and baggage and gifts and joys and sadness.
And whilst I´m happy accepting people have the right to feel what they feel…
I can´t always get behind what they´re feeling. I can´t echo what they want to hear – because frankly that´s not what I´m here to do.
And that´s where the term gets slippery.
It is one thing to accept the right to feel.
It is another thing to justify that feeling or emotion by presenting it as accurate.
That comes through the way that validity is both a right to be, but at the same time, a claim to representative accuracy. Its right of presence emerges out of its representative power.
If something was not accurate or representative, it could not be valid (legitimately present).
(The scientific / psychometric definitions of the term spell this out a little clearer)
And if you know anything about emotions, you know that accuracy isn´t a part of it.
People feel what they feel.
Sometimes it reflects what´s happening. (A surprise birthday party makes you feel joy because you see that people care about you)
And sometimes it doesn´t . (Feelings of intense longing for an emotionally absent partner because you believe that your love will change them)
From an esoteric (and scientific) perspective, a lot of what we ´feel´ can be linked to emotional patterns carried through the ancestral line. Science calls this the imprint of inherited trauma.
The work spiritualists and healers do helps a person move through, or even dissolve some aspects of their attachment to these patterns – so they can choose their own responses to the world as sovereign individuals. (At least the way I see it)
We see that a person´s feelings about something, no matter how difficult or intense, can shift rapidly once ancestral clearing/healing/integration/dissolution is done.
So how do we consider a person´s expression of emotion valid, i.e. a true barometer of who they are deep within?
Let´s take a more current example: trauma-bonding in relationships with intermittent reinforcement, coupled with narcissistic abuse
Literally – a person´s brain gets rewired into patterns of flight/fight, endorphin highs and lows that gets them ´addicted´ to experiences that are damaging for them
And let´s say the person subject to abuse comes in and waxes eloquent about her partner on the good days. And justifies the bad days with some strange equivalence of how she deserved it, how her partner needed help, x, y, z, a b, c ….
( You can make the same case for anyone dealing with any kind of addiction – their feelings about, say, alcohol may be truly joyful and committed …. is that something you want to validate, i.e. render true and reinforce? )
What about something a lot more common? Where someone who has been taught they´re worthless continues to feel like they don´t deserve anything good in their lives?
I would say that raises serious ethical questions for any kind of counselor or facilitator.
In the clinical sense, a good counselor sees emotional validation as a means to allow a person to feel what they´re feeling. Which is fine. Which is good. Which can be the prerequisite to change.
But – at the same time – they´re not saying that those feelings (be it through addiction, pressure from family/ancestry, trauma-bonding, etc.) are who a person truly is. Or that they are truly accurate representations of the situation they are in in their lives.
And that´s where the term gets muddled in everyday usage and understanding.
And why I feel ´validity´ isn´t the best term possible.
Because the moment we say something is valid, we´re also saying that ´it´s right´ …
It´s just the way we use the term …
We see the same slippage of terminology in the political sphere:
Where your right to believe something is translated into ´what you believe is right´.
Because hey … everyone´s opinion is ´valid´ isn´t it . .
And it´s such a dangerous slippage to make: From a right to be, to the certainty of rightness. One is an ontological claim, the other is a normative one.
Be it in the political sphere, or in the life of your emotions.
Just think about how many uses of the term ´right´exist and you´ll see a similar slippage at play. Remember that ´right´ comes from ´rectus´ which means ´ruled´ in Latin.
A lot of the language we use in rightness, legitimacy, authority, soundness, validity, etc. has its roots in political philosophy and the way the state establishes the terms through which it constructs an ´absolute´identity.
So really, there is a subtle politics of language at play – even here.
I think what we´re trying to say is …
It´s OK to feel what you´re feeling right now.
You have a right to your emotions.
But your emotions are not always right, accurate, or predictive of your past, present and future.
By airing my emotions surrounding this terminology and its easy slippage, I hope to create space for a better, and more sensitive phrase to emerge.
That´s something that can certain help counselors and facilitators better manage their relationships with those who seek a richer, fuller, emotional experience.
Post & Text © Bairavee Balasubramaniam, 2019. All rights reserved.
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Whilst the work I channel, intuit and figure out ultimately comes from Spirit, it still comes through me-as-co-creative a-divine-spark. For legal purposes I share these terms – and I hope you can understand the energetic basis of doing so. We all have to be honored for what we do, and what we bring. That way we keep things sustainable and in integrity.
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Post & Text © Bairavee Balasubramaniam, 2019. All rights reserved