As I am once again plunged into the dark place of grief since I just lost my grandpa only nine months after losing my mother-in-law (I was extremely close to both of them), I am confronted with well-meaning people trying to distract me in order to make me feel better. I’m also confronted with people who are not compassionate at all towards my deep pain. I had no idea I would have the latter problem.
But with this post I want to focus on validation and distraction. From the moment infants are born, many well-meaning people tend to distract infants when they cry instead of validating them and telling them that they will meet their needs.
I mean shushing the infant and saying, “You’re okay.” is not validating them. They are crying for a reason and it’s up to us to validate them and figure out what they need.
Unfortunately, this tendency to use distraction over validation occurs throughout life. People just aren’t comfortable with anyone of any age showing negative emotions. And yet, the Bible says:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NASB).
The Bible also says:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NASB).
We can rejoice easy enough with people, but when it comes to weeping and mourning with them, many run the other way. I believe this is due to being taught distraction from birth. It’s easier to say, “You’re okay,” and try to make someone smile and laugh than to sit down with them and listen to their pain and cry with them.
I find the most peace when people tell me that everything I am feeling right now is normal and to take my time. After all, to truly semi heal from great loss is to feel the pain and let it pass. God never distracts us from our pain. He is right here feeling it with us and comforting us. Encouragement is also so helpful to anyone of any age.
All this being said, I believe there is a place for respectful distraction. But it must always come after validation. Offering a young child something to do after he/she has pretty much worked through his/her upset is fine as long as the child can refuse it. Sending a funny video to a hurting person is okay as long as it is preferenced with “I know you’re having a hard time. I thought this might give you a smile.” Offering to take a grieving person out is okay as long as you are ready to hear them talk about the pain and maybe even see him/her cry.
Hurting, upset people of all ages need validation over distraction! Yes, taking a break from our pain is important, but without the support and validation of others, it makes the healing process take longer. It also causes children to learn that negative feelings are unacceptable and that they should repress and deny their pain.
If there is physical pain then validating it should still come before distraction. I use distraction as a coping mechanism but I recognize that I must feel the pain too as, unfortunately, pain is a part of this life on Earth.
May we always validate each other so that no one must carry their pain and burdens alone.