Distress Tolerance (part II)


I grew up in the 80s and I fondly recall the phrase “previously on __” because it refreshed my memory of what happened in the episode before the episode I was about to watch. These days syndication kills that because Nick at Nite and TBS don’t seem to coordinate their re-runs. But I digress.

Previously, I shared why distress tolerance is important to good mental and social functioning and the wave was used as a metaphor to describe emotional experience. This article explores the importance of identifying and validating those.

Learning to identify one’s emotions is critical to knowing how to ride through the waves of emotion that we endure throughout the day and throughout life.

(pardon the crappy production, the videos get better as I learn how to record and edit them)

This is not the article where I list all the emotions and help you identify them because that will be a much longer series, at least two of which I have already written, one of which has a gif, which I think is cool. That series is unfolding, little by little.

Labeling and Validation

This article is about understanding that emotional labeling and claiming is important to a good life. And I hope that I can communicate that in one sentence. Beyond that though, embracing them is even more important, and ensuring that your children embrace them is more important than that.

Validation is defined as simply making something real for another person. It does not mean that you condone the behaviors that preceded it; only that you would also feel the emotion that the person is experiencing. You may have heard that empathy is defined as feeling as another person feels, whereas sympathy is feeling sorry for another. To that point, everyone needs empathy, but sympathy does very little good. Validation is basically just empathy manifested in words:

“You’re disappointed.”

“That’s exciting!”

“Oofta. Embarrassing.”

“Jeez, I can’t even begin to imagine…”

Those are phrases of empathy and validation. To express them requires an ability to try to be the other person. Or at least, try the best that you can because we all know that you can never actually be someone else. But you can try. In seeing through another person’s eyes as though you are that person – say, a child – you can imagine, given the circumstances, what that person is feeling or experiencing.

And remember, you’re not condoning or endorsing the behavioral choices or what actually happened, just acknowledging the experience; the emotion. That is what helps children move forward through their distress as they ride the emotional wave and it is what brings us closer together as human beings.

Part three will focus on types of invalidation, or in other words, how we trample people’s emotional experiences in such a way that they shut down and stop engaging, sometimes for a lifetime.

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