Your feelings are valid

She asked me as she passed by “how’s it going, you know?”. I knew what she meant. Of course, I knew. It’s all any of us are talking about. Lockdown learning. “Yeah, it’s going well,” I said, “better than last time, the learning is more structured which works better for us”.

She couldn’t feign her surprise. “Really??” She said quietly, “it’s worse for us. We’ve had more meltdowns than ever and it’s only day two”. “Still”, she said, “could be worse. I keep thinking that, when I’m in the bathroom streaming. There’s always someone worse off than me”. I could see her eyes filling with tears. She was trying to hold it in.

“Yes, that’s true,” I said, “there’s always someone worse off, but that doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t valid. It doesn’t diminish your feelings right now”.

I don’t think she believed me.

We don’t have to be grateful all the time

While I buy into positive psychology and gratitude and all of that, I do worry that we do ourselves a disservice sometimes. Maybe more than sometimes. There is definitely space for finding things to be grateful for and mindful about and it 100% can make a big difference…however, there is also space for not doing so, for those times when you just need a good old moan about how life can be unfair.

I want to be really clear, it’s ok to feel angry and frustrated that you’re trying to do the impossible. Maybe like me and my friend(s) you are trying to educate your children and work. Maybe you’re working and all the responsibility lies with you because there’s no one else right now. Perhaps you are on the frontline. We are all doing the impossible right now, stretching ourselves thinner than ever before, with less support and more confusion.

There are folks going through some terrible times right now, but, and if, for you, right now, life feels horrendous, it’s ok to feel it. You don’t have to be grateful or mindful or anything. It’s entirely possible right now to feel guilty about feeling fed up whilst simultaneously feeling grateful that you have a roof/job/your health/{any other thing to feel grateful for}. Your feelings are valid.

This isn’t a game of who has it worse

We, as a society, tell ourselves, and others in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways that it’s not ok to feel our feelings. I have been guilty in the past of saying to a friend of mine ‘oh, it could be worse’ or minimising my own feelings with a #firstworldproblems hashtag. We imply that we/others chose their situation, that they deserve it.

The problem with this is that it stops the person in pain from seeking the help they need. It feels confusing and they often feel guilty about feeling the way they do. Just because you are told, or you tell yourself, that others ‘have it worse’ doesn’t take away from your pain. Feeling your feelings doesn’t make you ungrateful for what you have; it makes you human. Your feelings are valid.

We compare ourselves to others in a kind of ‘who has it worse’ game. If we went along with the idea that we can’t feel rubbish about their situation because someone else has it worse than us, we would each have to compare until there was only one person in the world who had the right to feel like they were worse off than everyone else. That makes no sense at all! There is no ranking for everyone’s individual circumstance and particularly which is better/worse.

A friend might mean well when they tell us about someone they feel has it worse than us, but it invalidates our experience. I am guilty of this but I have learnt a better response: “It sounds really tough for you right now. Can I help by [insert a practical and helpful idea like cooking you dinner/collecting your shopping]?”. Often the most helpful thing that I do, that anyone can do, is listening. Without interruption or judgement. Let the person vent their feelings to someone who cares.

You wouldn’t tell someone to get over the happy times or say that someone else is happier than them so they shouldn’t feel happy? So why do we do this when we’re addressing the hard times?

Feelings are not mutually exclusive

You can be grateful in some areas of your life and still suffer from depression and/or trauma. It can be confusing when on the outside things look like they are going well but on the inside your anxiety is overwhelming.

Our feelings, like life, are not a simple case of black and white. They are shades of grey. Whilst it’s totally normal to want to hold on to the good feelings and avoid the ‘bad’ ones, Brené Brown is right when she says you can’t selectively numb your emotions.

“You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”

Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage

In the same way that feelings aren’t inherently good or bad, people aren’t all happy, frustrated, angry, sad. It’s the meaning you ascribe to your emotions that allows you to classify them as sentiments you allow/reject. Life is complex. You can feel afraid, mad, surprised, excited, and overwhelmed on the same day, or in the same hour, sometimes at the same time. Your feelings are valid.

Your feelings are valid – you have the right to complain

Feeling that you don’t have the right to complain is one of the reasons people don’t seek help. The truth is that having a good old moan is good for the soul. You have the right to feel what you feel, regardless of what others say or how you view your own challenges in light of others’ suffering. Everyone has challenges; just different ones. In the first lockdown we had I saw the words from a beautiful poem by Damian Barr:

“We are not in the same boat. We are all in the same storm”

This really resonated with me at the time and as time has gone on, has resonated with me more. Especially having recently done a mental health first aid course and seeing my own and other’s fluctuations in mental wellness over the last 12 months.

Your challenges are a challenge to you and that makes them valid. None of us deserves to have our sufferings dismissed as inconsequential or worthless. By ourselves or by anyone else. You have so much worth. Your suffering is valid; your feelings matter. No comparisons should tell you otherwise.

I am not going to offer my normal ‘here are x things you can do to help yourself’ that I normally would in a blog post. But I am going to encourage you to do one thing: talk to someone. Whether it’s a friend, partner or someone professional, you choose. Take your feelings for what they are – important, unique to you and worth taking seriously. Your feelings are valid. Figure a way to recognise the feelings, validate them and work through the pain. It’s not easy but it will help.

“No one reaches out to you for compassion or empathy so you can teach them how to behave better. They reach out to us because they believe in our capacity to know our darkness well enough to sit in the dark with them.”

Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage










Image credit: Sanctus

Leave a comment