• HL

    Oy. What’s so embarrassing about this secret of adulthood is that it is absolutely true of me!

  • kristinmabwood

    Agree! My partner did this for me just this morning. It was a relief to have it acknowledged.

  • Marie

    Yes, definitely. I’ve been thinking about this since reading your second book and I know that for myself, if someone diminishes what I am going through or how I’m feeling, it makes me feel invalidated and frustrated, even if their goal had been to cheer me up and not dwell on the negative. It creates a negative cycle.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, it’s funny, often people do this with the best intentions, with the thought that it will be cheering or reassuring – and in fact, it’s maddening!

      I’m often stunned by how much it relieves people’s bad feelings.

  • Molly

    Wow, I was just thinking about this idea b/c something related to it came up when I called my cousin today, who is going through treatment for cancer. She was having a really bad morning this morning, started expressing her feelings. I really didn’t know what to say, and after giving an empathetic nod to what she was saying, I sat silently, feeling stupid b/c I didn’t know what to say on my end of the phone conversation. This seemed to work b/c it prompted her to continue what she was saying (normally I might interrupt and derail the train of thought) and by the end, she really talked herself into feeling a bit better. I affirmed and paused. Must try more often!!

  • This is interesting. I can’t say I disagree or agree because I’ve not tested it. But I will say when I’m not feeling great and somebody says, “cheer up!” it doesn’t make me feel any better. That said, when somebody says, “why do you look so sad?” or “what’s wrong?” that doesn’t do much for me either.

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, that’s true, that kind of comment can be annoying!

  • Bailey Olfert

    Totally agree. We want to feel heard. Most of the time, others are powerless to change our happiness level (especially if it is situational) anyway, and we can feel better just being acknowledged.

  • peninith1

    Yes, I think it works best to reflect or validate a person’s feelings as they EXPRESS them. Saying ‘cheer up’ is annoying and ‘gee, you look sad’ is almost equally annoying. “How are you feeling?” [a real QUESTION, not a judgement or a management statement} should elicit what the other person wants to say. Then go from there and validate. As another person said–given a chance, people can sometimes express their bad feelings and that in itself can lead to a happier outlook, just because they’ve been sympathetically heard. Make sure what you say truly is your expression of concern and not your attempt to manage your discomfort with the other person’s mood. If you are dealing with an ‘Eyeore’ who is unceasingly miserable, well after a while you can change the subject.

  • This is very true — people can’t move forward until you meet them right where they’re at.

  • AliB

    Yep – I came to this conclusion just the other day when applying the parenting tip to my kids – wished my husband would do the same for me – acknowledge the feeling rather than tell me I’m flying off the handle (which makes me fly further!)

  • Dorcas

    I was visiting a sad friend a while back. Not knowing what to say that would “fix” her problem. I mumbled something about how sorry I was she was going through this trial, and said, “It must totally suck.” She looked at me and started to cry. She told me what a relief it was to have someone just validate that it was indeed a horrible situation she was going through–she wasn’t just feeling sorry for herself. Here I was, wishing I had some pithy comment that would lift up her spirits and make it all better. Instead, just acknowledging where she was right now was the right thing to do.

  • BigMamaBear

    I am not surprised this seemingly small but ultimately powerful piece of wisdom came from that great parenting book. I have a very emotional daughter and she gets SO worked up sometimes. Just holding my arms out and saying, “Wow, you are so angry right now”, makes her sag into my arms and cry in relief. She just wants to be acknowledged. It takes at least half the power away from whatever was bothering her.

    Doesn’t Oprah say this message a lot, too? That every human on the planet just wants to be seen and heard… that we all have that in common. And never is it more true than when we are down, frustrated, sad, hurt, worried… we just want a pair of caring eyes to look into ours and “get” it.

    I find this to be true in marriage, too. My husband oftens wants to “fix” things for me. We have much more success between us when he just acknowledges what I am feeling. I can fix it myself. 😉

  • Rachel Gillespie

    Agreed. Two days after my mother died I took my kids to school as usual. One of the mums – a woman I hardly knew – came up and silently hugged me. That was all. I don’t remember anything anyone said to me that morning but her gesture has stuck in my mind for six years as something incredibly powerful. I told her so just a couple of years ago and she said she isn’t usually a hugger, she just didn’t know what to say but felt compelled to do something. It was a great choice.

    • gretchenrubin

      Sometimes words can only diminish what we want to convey.