Scurrying to and fro, compiling lists, searching for ideas on the interwebs, as hours dissolve into thin air–all to nail down the perfect gift for everyone on your list? There’s that impossible challenge again: the perfection quest. There is a gift that we can give to family, friends, loved ones, co-workers, that no one is going to return or reject. In my experience, at least, listening to countless souls, whether in office, classroom, or my personal life.
What is this magical–yet free, readily available, no need to wait for free shipping or that deep discount sale–gift? Validation. Empathy. Listening and offering a heartfelt expression of “poor baby.” “I get it; I SO know where you are coming from.” “How hard.” “Yes, that sucks.” We have a universal need to have our emotional experience confirmed. Validation helps us feel normal; whatever we are feeling has been experienced by others. It lets us feel connected; if others can identify and get it, we must not be alone.
Offering validation is just like kissing boo-boos. Kissing boo-boos works, whether dispensed by actually touching a skinned knee or uttering simple words through those lips. Recent research has shown that the touch of a mother’s lips on a child’s bumps, bruises, and scrapes actually causes a chemical reaction that speeds healing. And in other research, the sound of a mother’s voice on the telephone released the hormone oxytocin, to calm the anxieties of girls just as well as having an actual hug from mom.
Mid-November, I was excited and geared up to FINALLY install the wooden floor in the ongoing (inching toward two years) bedroom remodeling project at my house. I spent nearly a whole day clearing out the bedroom, a pile of work-related detritus overflowing from the adjacent bathroom remodel. I had carefully shopped for the ideal flooring, settling on a brand I’d used previously because it had worked so well. I picked up the special-order flooring on Weds., allowing the requisite 48 hours for the flooring to acclimate to my home before the install. Saturday morning, I gleefully opened the boxes and launched into the piles of click-lock floor. Opening three full boxes yielded only three boards without flaws. I was frustrated, close to tears as I loaded the flooring into the car to return to the home store.
Expressing my frustration to the first four people I encountered only increased my pain, as each readily stepped up to the task of loading, unloading, returning the goods–without one validating comment. Not one “poor baby” “how frustrating” “I’m sorry that happened to you” phrase was uttered. They all just looked at me blankly, and did what they needed to do. The true gifts came first from my daughter, via phone, with her succinct validation: “that sucks!” and later when my mom called that evening. Upon hearing my sad lament about the stalled-once-more project, my mother promptly exclaimed “how devastating. You sound so disappointed. I’m so sorry.” I could really hear the empathy in her voice, and she’s my mom, and I felt truly better, finally.
As I’ve noted before, we readily offer compassion and acceptance to our children, while being hard on ourselves. This gift of acknowledgement of emotions has no “2-12 years” limit. And while mom’s voice gives it added oomph, anyone can give this validation. The key essential ingredients are that you truly get the other’s feelings, even if you haven’t been there yourself exactly. You dig down deep and remember a time when you were sad, frustrated, or angry, and you offer that validation. And healing begins.
Not just a gift for the winter holidays, either. Always in season.