With others, we are often best friends, cheerleaders, and confidantes. With ourselves, we are often our own worst enemies.
“I hate myself for feeling this way”, “I’m not being a good partner/friend”, “I don’t know why I am acting like this – I feel so selfish”. There are common thoughts that I’m sure most people have experienced. Because we can be so self-critical and hard on ourselves, we are quick to invalidate our own feelings in many different situations.
Feelings of invalidation, from ourselves or others, can have a number of different negative consequences. For example, they can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and self-esteem difficulties. Moreover, these negative emotions may lead us to engaging in behaviours that are not consistent with the person we want to be. For example, yelling at a partner. Not only are these behaviours inconsistent with who we are, they might get us further away from our true goal. In this case, the goal might be clearly communicating your needs to build a healthy relationship with your partner.
Primary vs Secondary Emotions
Consequently, it’s important to reflect on your own emotions and give yourself the compassion and psychological space to recognize how you feel in response to a situation may make more sense than you think.
This can lead to better mental well-being, feeling better about yourself more generally, and provide you a guiding post to act in a way that is consistent with you how truly feel in a situation.
In emotion regulation, we separate emotions into primary vs secondary emotions.
Primary emotions are how we feel because of a situation. For example, if a close friend said something particularly nasty about you, your primary emotion might be hurt or upset.
Secondary emotions are how you feel in response to that initial primary emotion. In this case, secondary emotions could be anger because of the hurt or shame for feeling this way.
Sometimes our secondary emotions shadow how we initial felt towards a situation, which makes it easier for invalidating thoughts to creep in. Below, I discuss some steps to a self-validation practice you can use to begin developing some self-compassion.
A Step-by-Step Self-Validation Practice
1. Write down the situation; what happened?
2. Note down possible judgments and self-invalidating thoughts that may have come up in your mind.
3. Jot down what you think were the secondary emotions.
4. Now, reflecting on the situation, jot down what you think the primary emotions were.
5. In terms of emotional vulnerability, write down if there was anything going on in your life that made being kind to yourself harder.
6. Write down what you would have wanted in that situation and how that hope was different from what actually happened.
7. Reflect on whether your primary emotion in that situation makes sense or not. How would another person in your situation feel?
8. Say this out loud!
9. Check in with yourself to evaluate how you feel after this exercise.
Self-Validation Practice: An Example
1. I am recently 3 months post-partum with my first child. Husband was out at work, and I was taking care of the baby. The baby would not stop crying and I started crying as well.
2. Thoughts and judgments, such as “I’m a bad mother” and “I’m not doing my job properly” came into mind.
3. Secondary emotions were: guilt, shame.
4. Reflecting on the situation, my primary emotions were: feeling overwhelmed, tired
5. I had not been sleeping well over the last couple months because of the baby. I also had not yet eaten anything that day, which contributed to my emotional vulnerability.
6. I wished that my baby was smiling and my husband was back from work to help support me.
7. In retrospect, my primary emotions of feeling overwhelmed and tired make a lot of sense. Between taking care of my baby’s needs (and her still crying) and being sleep and food deprived, it makes a lot of sense that I am feeling overwhelmed and tired.
8. I feel better after reflecting on the situation and giving myself some self-compassion. I am going to let my husband know how I feel so we can plan something together to enjoy!
- Invalidation can lead to greater negative emotions and behaviours that are detrimental to our goals
- Primary emotions are emotions that are in response to a situation; secondary emotions are emotions that in response to the primary emotions.
- Self-validation exercises can be a great way to nourish ourselves with self-compassion and understand why we feel a certain way in a situation. It can also support us understanding our needs in the situation.
I hope this post was helpful in becoming a little more self-compassionate! If you have examples of times where you were a little tougher on yourself than you would have liked, let us know in the comments. If you are comfortable, you can also share what you think your primary and secondary emotions were!
Featured photo credits: <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/photos/sympathy’>Sympathy photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com</a>