Invalidating others’ feelings is never helpful

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I’ve always found it curious when people try and quantify pain, as if it’s up to them to decide whether or not your feelings are valid and whether you’re allowed to have them.

It happens all the time. Women deal with a lot of inequities, but those of us who are visibly Caucasian are told that we shouldn’t be offended at all because we don’t have it as bad as women of colour. Caucasian people in general are told they’re not allowed to complain about any unfair treatment (so-called “reverse” discrimination), because we’ve had it so good – or at least better – than others for so long. Politicians and supports of all affiliations are told they’re not allowed to have certain feelings on certain issues because of how their party handled a situation around it years ago, and men are constantly told to just ‘man up’ every time something’s bothering them because as a man they’re apparently not allowed to feel upset about anything – emotion is apparently unmanly or something ridiculous like that.

Perhaps the worst example, however, is when someone tries to invalidate grief.

I lost my four-year-old cat, Sungmin (named after a member of the Kpop band Super Junior) nearly two weeks ago in the wee hours of Saturday. She’d been through a lot recently – suffering from constipation, then rapid weight loss, liver and kidney issues. She’d been on antibiotics and supplements and for awhile we thought she was on the mend, but it did a complete 180 on the Friday. I got home from work, she was breathing too quickly and it wasn’t slowing down.

I sat with her for most of the night. She held my gaze for awhile, as if she was comforting me instead of the other way around. As much as I didn’t want to leave her, I’m pretty sure she was just holding out, waiting for me to leave so that she could go to sleep, so I finally did shortly after 1 a.m.

By 3 a.m. she was gone.

Knowing she was no longer suffering didn’t make dealing with the loss any easier. In the days that followed, it seemed harder to deal with than when it happened, especially when her sister, Rebel, cuddled up to her designated humans in the family, and I no longer could do the same.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find myself crying at inopportune moments at work, while writing this, driving, or just going about everyday activities.

While reasonable people I came across that found out gave their condolences, there were also those who told me to get over it, that “it’s just a cat,” or implied I was acting like a child for getting upset over something so silly.

Even if I wasn’t experiencing the loss of my sweet baby kitty, there are so many aspects of those kinds of responses that are wrong.

In many ways, Sungmin was my best friend. She had a sweet temperament, was always there to listen even if human affairs didn’t interest or bother her. When things were rough, she was always there for cuddles. She was just as much a member of the family as my parents and siblings, and therefore the pain of loss is the same.

Moreover, belittling how someone feels about any situation is never helpful. No one is going to suddenly have a “eureka” moment where they come to the realization that because you told them their feelings were invalid, or not worth having, they’ll automatically get over them. It’s just salt in the wound.

Worse yet, however, are those that try and compare grief, or “cheer” you up by saying: “Hey it could be worse – you could’ve lost a child/parent/significant other.”

Wow, thanks, for that mental picture. I feel oh-so blessed that I’m completely devastated, and yet can’t possibly understand what “real” grief is like. That really makes everything better. Not.

I understand there will be people who don’t understand, who can’t grasp why I would ever have a cat, let alone be upset at losing one. Still, that doesn’t give them the right to disrespect and invalidate how I feel about it. It’s not going to change my mood, speed up the grieving process, and it certainly isn’t going to bring my cat back to me.

For those who don’t understand, take a page out of Thumper’s book: If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.