I watched the hair stylist cutting my hair in the mirror. She was enviably slim, wearing an impeccably fitting clean white blouse with black pants. Her own hair was perfect. She moved effortlessly on her high heels. Just then another stylist bounced up to her.
“You know what I just realized?" the other stylist bubbled... "Megan’s wedding is the exact same day as my sisters!”
My stylist didn’t look up. “Are you in Megan’s wedding?”
“Then what’s the problem? Megan will understand.”
The other stylist was at a loss and wandered back to her station without responding It was true. Megan would no doubt understand. There really was no problem. Except …. for how she felt…
I thought about the interaction as I was going off to sleep that night. I would have liked to say to my stylist: “Of course Megan will understand. But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s disappointing. The point is Megan’s wedding would have been fun. The point is she feels torn because she wants to go to both. And further, now she feels deflated and a bit foolish because you have totally dismissed her feelings. Why couldn’t you have just said ‘awwww…, that sucks. I hate it when that happens….’ Why couldn’t you have just validated what she was feeling?”
Validating someone else’s feelings is a bit tricky sometimes because it requires first that we validate our own and that’s not always easy or even possible. It's particularly challenging if we have cut ourselves off from feeling precisely because 'feeling' can hurt. Feeling, for some of us, does not seem at all safe or wise. So, to cope, we shut down our feelings and truly cannot access an empathic or emotional response. When this happens, we think and talk only in terms of pure logic and common sense - which… well… kinda sucks the life out of intimacy and makes the other person feel irrational and ridiculous. It’s not exactly a relationship builder.
The truth is that emotion, gut feelings, intuition and raw responses are very very important. They are what give warmth and vitality to relationships. Sadly, very often, our childhood wounds get in the way of our capacity to validate and empathize. We end up totally missing each other and feeling unheard, unappreciated, unseen, unimportant. Not to mention all the 'D' words. Dismissed, Discouraged, Deflated, Diminished, Deflected, Disrespected, Defenseless…. When we talk with someone who has replaced 'feeling' with 'rational thinking', we often walk away from the conversation not entirely sure why we feel so crappy. It’s very difficult to fight against sensible, rational logic. You just feel bad.
If you’re the person being dismissed by someone with impeccable and infuriating logic, here are some tips:
1. Rational people are usually incredibly articulate and make perfect sense. But YOU can still pay attention to your feelings. Give yourself a few minutes to attend to your inner voice. Buy some time by saying “What you’re saying sounds very logical, but it doesn’t feel right and I’ve come to highly value my emotional intelligence.” Or if you were the ‘other stylist’, you might quip lightly with a warm smile (like Penny on Big Bang Theory might…) “Oh sweetie, you’re so rational. Don’t you ever just let yourself feel disappointment?”
2. Know that rational people usually like the way that they are (think Sheldon…). It’s all they know. For deeply buried safety reasons, they don’t respect, have or want emotions. This comes across as arrogance. Maybe a little ‘broadening’ of their perspective from you might be helpful. Maybe a comment like “It’s hard for us to talk because you’re very logical and I’m quite emotional. I really enjoy the rich colours of my emotional life and you really enjoy the clarity of logic. Maybe we can learn from each other…”
3. Get to know yourself. It’s always the place to start in advancing your relationships. Know when it feels right and say so. Say “Hmmm, what I'm saying feels really right to me.” Know when you are wrong and say so. Say “I got carried away with my emotions and responded badly. I’m sorry.” Learn to validate your own emotions and learn to acknowledge the role of rationality. Embrace and nourish them both.
4. Give them one of my business cards and suggest that they make an appointment :) The truth is that in spite of their confident, almost arrogant presentation, and in spite of the fact that they like their logic, they are lonely, fearful and empty inside. They long for intimacy and literally can't see how they are sabotaging themselves.