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6.19.2012

Hooray! I'm Depressed... and That's Valid! - or - Parenting Lessons From Marriage Counselling, Part 2

Some feelings are easier to express than others. I have a tendency to want to avoid the more difficult emotions. My flawed reasoning goes something like this: if I don't acknowledge the pain, then maybe I won't feel it. If I avoid conflict, I won't have to experience it. As I sat in marriage counselling, I realized my reasoning didn't work out very well for me. For us.

"That thinking is very old" my counsellor would tell me. What she meant was I brought that way of thinking into our marriage from my childhood.

I do not want my children to bring that way of thinking into their marriages. I want them to be able to share their pain without fear of conflict. Not because there won't be conflict, but because they do not fear it. I want them to be able to tell me, "Mom, I feel sad right now... I feel afraid because I don't want you to be mad... I feel angry because I don't think it's fair!"

But in order for them to feel free to tell me their honest feelings and emotions, I need to foster a safe place for them to express that valuable emotional treasure.

I need to validate their feelings.

Otherwise they can't share their hearts without fear. To validate their feelings is to tell them that their experience is real. It is a powerful thing to let someone know their feelings are valid.

When we'd made the first of our many moves, this one to a different state for a new job, I felt many different emotions. A lot of them were heavy emotions that I was not very comfortable with admitting I was feeling. I thought they weren't appropriate emotions for a mother of energetic toddlers to have. Or for a woman who's husband's job was ministry. I decided it must be my birth control pills messing with my hormones, making me emotional because it certainly couldn't be my inability to deal with the stresses of life. I wanted to be Wonder Woman, Model Mom, unaffected by stress, counting it all joy.

I made an appointment with a doctor to get my prescription changed and waited for an hour past my appointment time, not willing to leave, desperate for a solution. After they called my name, I waited another short eternity in the exam room. When the doctor finally joined me, she asked why I wanted my prescription changed. I told her. She sat down next to me and asked me what was going on in my life. When I was done recounting the recent changes and challenges, she put her hand on my shoulder and said very seriously, "You poor thing. No wonder you feel the way you do. You are not hormonal. You are depressed. With all you have going on, it's no wonder." 

She could have kept me waiting another two hours and I would not have cared because she ministered to me when she finally came into the room. Someone understood! I wasn't crazy! I wasn't less of a person, less of a Christian to be struggling with these difficult emotions! I wasn't wrong to feel depressed! It wasn't my birth control prescription making me feel something I didn't like feeling; it was depression and I was normal. I felt validated. It felt good. And it helped me to be better able to address my depression and my circumstances and my attitude. (The medications she prescribed helped too.)

The tricky thing about validating someone else's feelings is this: sometimes their feelings make me feel yucky. Sometimes in order to validate others' feelings, I need to set aside my own for a while in order to create a safe environment for their honest emotions to be shared.


This reminds me of what Paul wrote in the book of Philippians. He said

"Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also
to the interests of others. 
In humility 
consider others better than yourselves."

I used to think that meant:

"consider everyone better than you; 
suppress your own feelings 
and take on 
everyone else's feelings." 

I didn't know what it looked like to put others up without putting myself down.

But Paul expected us to look to our own interests. It's not healthy if we don't. He simply said that we should also look to others' interests. He might have said, to use a contemporary phrase,

"Seek first to understand and then to be understood."

I was thinking about this idea of validating and how it has revolutionized the way my husband and I interact with each other. Then one of my children had a meltdown.

When they have their melt downs, my heart melts down a little bit, too. I don't like it when they cry or carry on. It awakens some heavy feelings in me. Sometimes I feel annoyed by their display of emotion. If it happens in front of people, I might feel embarrassed. Most times I feel inadequate as a mother.

I want to say, "stop crying, get over it" so that I will feel better. In the past I said, "go to your room and get some self control" so that I would not have to deal with it. Sometimes I would use humor to deflect having to deal with their/my emotions.

When my daughter had a meltdown after my husband and I learned the importance of validation, I recognized my tendency to want to make myself feel better by quieting her emotions. I decided to validate the emotions that were causing her meltdown instead. Amazingly that calmed her down enough to open up to me about her emotions.

Treasure! 

We were able to talk about her emotions separate from her actions. The emotions felt are real and need to be validated; the meltdown behavior is not acceptable even if it's understandable and needs to be addressed. I think that's how God parents us. He meets us where we are at, but loves us too much to keep us there.

In my parenting, I want to create a safe atmosphere for my kids to share their treasure with me by validating their emotions. I want to model it in our marriage so that they can see how valuable validation and emotional honesty are in relationships.

In the past, if my husband were to say to me "I feel sad when you do [this] because it makes me think you don't care," I would have become defensive. "I do care!" I might have replied, then added "you should know I care. In fact, I can't believe you think I don't care after all the caring things I do for you. Here, let me list them: (...) I'm so mad that you don't think I care!" (That wasn't a very caring way to say I cared.)

Now I would say something like, "it must really stink to feel like I don't care. It would make me sad too if I thought you didn't care." Validating his feelings is not the same thing as saying that his feelings are based in truth. Because I really do care and that's the truth. But if he feels sad because he thinks I don't care, his sadness is true too.

When I understand that his feelings or my daughter's feelings do not define me, then I can better respond with love and be safe for them to share their treasure with me. In turn, I can share my treasure with them. I treasure those moments of intimacy and authenticity with my husband and my children.

Validation. It's for real.

9 comments:

  1. Brilliant sharing. Just want to validate that, truly.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Amy. That makes me want to share my treasure with you. See how that works?! :)

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    2. I love what happened with your daughter when you determined to validate her feelings. I know I have been guilty of trying to 'hurry up and get it over with' because it just feels bad. You are making me think, Anne.

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  2. Why didn't I learn that years ago before my kids were grown....it would have saved me a lot of heartache!

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    1. It's never too late! His mercy is new every day.

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  3. Just read a few of your posts, Anne. (Got here from your dad's link to your "third culture" post.) I am really enjoying reading your insightful and well-expressed thoughts. Thanks for sharing them. God bless.
    Kristen Powell
    Btw - I share your love of barns.

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    1. Thanks Kristin. I appreciate your kind words.

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  4. Yep...more tears of recognition...oh the concept that our family's feelings....don't define who we are.... the trials and mistakes I had to go through to get that one.... Realizing this truth a few months ago ...changed my whole parenting/marriage outlook...but some days i slip back and forget it...thank you so much my dear for the reminder!

    Anne I can't even begin to tell you how much your writings resonate with me!

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    1. As do your writings resonate with me!! // And the creativity that you share resonates with the creative in me that has been dormant for so long, that I'm trying to feed... It does my heart good just to look at your blog. And then to read it does my heart even better! // I also slip back and forget, it's easy to do when it's been a life-long pattern... so glad for grace. Learning to give it to myself. Learning to accept it from others. // xo

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