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It's Time You Got Your Feelings Validated (More) In Your Relationships

Your feelings matter. Here's how to make sure others recognize it.

Love & Relationships

While pretty much everything that I write is able to hit home for me on some level, this is the kind of article that is super personal because I'm someone who spent a lot of years having my feelings totally invalidated. It's a book unto itself, just why that was the case; however, I think the best way to narrow it down is I was a part of a generational curse of people who can totally relate. When you come from abuse—any kind of abuse, even neglect—your feelings have been invalidated. When you state your needs and they go ignored, your feelings are being invalidated. When you believe that you feel one way and someone tries to either manipulate or gaslight you into feeling something else, guess what—your feelings have just been invalidated.

This reality is problematic as all get out because, as you'll see in just a sec, feelings serve a purpose. It's one of the things that makes us human. We really can't process, gain clarity or evolve without them. So, if you happen to be someone who has gotten this far in this write-up and you already feel like you might tear up, please make the time to finish it all the way through. As someone who suffered for many years in this lane, I want to share with you some of what brought me to a place of pure freedom. Yes, in my feelings and in my relationships as it relates to feeling them.

Feelings. What’s Their Purpose (in Relationships), Anyway?

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OK. Before we get into how you can get your feelings validated, let's first discuss what the purpose of having feelings actually is to begin with.

As far as feelings go, many therapists say that we all have seven basic feelings—joy, surprise, fear, disgust, anger, contempt, and sadness. Anything other than these are still tied to them on some level. Keeping this in mind, regardless of what we feel at any given time, all of our feelings basically exist in order to 1) protect us; 2) motivate us to make a decision; 3) manage stress; 4) help us to better understand other people, and/or 5) help others to understand us.

So, say for instance that one of your friends hurt your feelings (or pissed you off) because they violated your trust by sharing one of your secrets. Whether you are sad or angry, based on why we have feelings, those emotions transpired in order to protect you and help your friend to better understand you once you state where you are coming from.

Another example. Say that your boo came home with your favorite meal and a dozen roses. If you felt joy and surprise, that may motivate you to do something nice for him up the road. On the other hand, if you felt disgusted, perhaps you're protecting yourself on some level because he has a track record of only doing nice things when he's totally fumbled the ball in some way.

The reason why it's important to understand what our core feelings are and why they exist is so we can get a better grasp on what to do when a particular feeling comes over us instead of just remaining in the space without any real knowledge of how to move forward. Another reason why understanding our own feelings is so essential is because it helps us to recognize when they are being validated—or invalidated. This brings me to the next point.

What Does It Mean to VALIDATE Feelings?

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It's pretty common that when a couple goes to therapy, one of the issues that comes up is poor communication. Because this is the case, something that a therapist/counselor/coach will oftentimes do is have one person verbally express a thought and then have the other person repeat back what they heard their partner say. This is an example of validating someone's feelings because validation is all about confirming something and one of my favorite definitions of confirm is "to acknowledge with definite assurance". When someone is validating another person's feelings, they are acknowledging that they definitely get—or are working to get—where the other person is coming from.

One of the biggest problems in a lot of relationships—any kind of relationship too—is people tend to spend more time either trying to get their own feelings validated that they end up ignoring the other person, or they are flippant and dismissive as hell about how someone else is feeling at any given time. Aside from either being disrespected as all get out, when you don't feel validated, how in the world can you even feel safe with that individual? This is why validating feelings is critical to the health and well-being of any relationship. Without it, there will always be some level of profound dysfunction.

Were Your Feelings Validated in Your Childhood and Adolescence?

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Now that there is some clarity on what it means to have your feelings validated, think back to your own childhood and adolescent years. Did your parents validate your feelings? I'll raise my hand in this class and say that most of my relatives did not. Even with the abuse that I experienced, oftentimes, their denial or ego mania tried to gaslight me into thinking that what happened to me "wasn't so bad" or that my memories were muddled. When you grow up that way, it can cause you to get into relationships with other people who also treat you in the same fashion. After all, your childhood is your foundation.

Without getting too deep into my own past—because you don't have the time and I don't have the energy…trust me—I think a really common example of invalidating a child's feelings is spanking them and then telling them not to cry. WTF? Let someone hit you multiple times and see how you feel. Pain hurts. Crying is a natural response. Telling a child that they cannot feel what they feel is invalidating them. And that is abusive.

So yeah, if you feel like you are currently in a cul-de-sac where either your feelings are constantly overlooked and/or, quite frankly, you don't know how to feel, reflect on when you were a kid and when you were a teenager. Did your parents and the other people around you honor you as an individual by letting you (respectfully) express your feelings? Did they acknowledge them without manipulation or unnecessary judgment? If so, consider yourself blessed. Those are the kind of individuals who end up being very self-aware; they tend to have healthy boundaries in their relationships too. Let's keep going.

Do You Express “Big Girl Emotions”, Now?

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Some of you may have caught an article that I wrote for the platform a few years back entitled, "What GROWN Women Consider Great Sex To Be". A part of the reason why I wrote it is because, hopefully, as we age, we also mature. So yes, the way that we process sex in our 20s should be very different once we hit our 40s (whether we are married or not). Well, the same thing applies to our emotions. When my almost two-year-old goddaughter is aggravated, she's gonna cry, yell and/or attempt to throw something. She's not old enough to understand that there are other ways to convey emotions. It's awesome that her parents are mature enough in their own development that they get that because there is nothing worse than seeing a child at a grocery store throwing a temper tantrum as their parents do the same in return. The child and the parent should be responding very differently because one should be way more self-aware than the other.

Same thing applies to how we express our feelings as adults, regardless of the person we're expressing our emotions to. Matter of fact, wisdom teaches that as we continue to evolve, we should definitely know the difference between having feelings and being an overly emotional kind of person.

I'll give you an example. One of my former clients? She used to wear me all the way out because whenever someone disappointed her, she would spend a lot of her time cussing and yelling at me, as if I was the source of her disdain. When I would ask her if she shared her feelings with the actual cause of her issue, her answer was either that she acted like nothing was wrong or she simply cut them off (check out "Why I Don't "Cut People Off" Anymore, I Release Them Instead"). As I dug deeper, I realized that she was so emotionally stunted and used to her feelings being disregarded that she didn't even know how to go about getting her feelings validated. She would rather just run through relationships than do the work to establish healthy connections.

This is one example of what it means to be overly emotional. When you don't understand feelings, the purpose of them and how to express them in a productive kind of way, you end up being all over the place and oftentimes, ultimately, alone.

How Good Are You at Validating the Feelings of Others?

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Something that I am a huge believer in is the importance of "taking inventory" in friendships. The reality is that just like married people grow and change over time, friends do too. That's why it's poor form to assume that needs and expectations will always remain the same. Matter of fact, one of my closest friends and I had a chat about this very thing not too long ago. She semi-recently signed a deal that is going to take a lot more of her time which means we both have to make adjustments in order to still engage one another. We used to talk constantly, so I've had to be intentional about paying close attention when she shares how tired she is or how she needs time to herself. Even when she says that she's fine being on the phone for an hour, I've had to "love her enough" to sense when she's beat and initiate getting off of the phone myself—whether she says she's good with staying on longer or not.

Honestly, 10 years ago, I probably wouldn't even think this deeply. It goes back to my childhood angst because when folks are invalidating your emotions, you don't really care all that much about validating theirs. Yet the more I heal, the more important it is to definitely acknowledge where others are coming from. Trust me, the more you tap into other people's emotional needs, the more inclined they are to return the favor.

5 Steps Towards REQUIRING That Your Feelings Get Validated More Often

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I know this was kind of a lot. I do hope that it helped to provide a few ah-ha moments, though, if you happen to be someone who wonders why your feelings don't get validated (acknowledged) as much as they probably should. That said, I think it would be pretty irresponsible of me to break all of this down and not offer up a few tips for how you can start getting your feelings validated in your relationships more often, moving forward.

Step 1: Make sure YOU know how YOU feel first. 

It's next level maturity to be able to control yourself enough that when you feel certain emotions (like anger or disgust), you take a moment (or 10) to get a hold on why you feel that way and what that feeling is give you a heads up on. For instance, if your boss has you wanting to throw something straight at their head, why is that? Did they not keep their word? Do you feel taken for granted? Are they dismissive of your requests? Remember that feelings can help to protect us and get people to better understand us. Knowing why you feel what you do and the purpose that it serves can help you to communicate your emotions better.

Step 2: ​Express your feelings in the way that you would like them to be expressed to you. 

I've said it before and I'm sure I will say it a million more times before I transition on—I can't stand to see men or women put their hands on someone. I also think it's ridiculous to hear men or women yelling at each other.

Regardless of how you feel at any given time, remember that feelings are to bring about a level of understanding. No one is trying to get what you're saying, sympathize or empathize with you or even make a real connection with you if you are wilin' out here.

It's always important to remember the Golden Rule in the sense that the way that you want someone to express their feelings to you is the way that you should express your feelings to them.

Step 3: ​REQUIRE that your feelings be validated. 

Some people struggle with requiring things of others because they feel like it comes off as being a demand. Shoot, I don't because a requirement is a need and if someone isn't willing to meet your basic needs, why are they in a close proximity when it comes to your life in the first place? Another example. There is someone from my past who constantly reached out whenever they were upset with someone else or, in hindsight, needed their ego stroked. Because I was still wounded from having my own feelings invalidated, I kept rising to the occasion. Yet whenever I would bring to their attention something that they did (or didn't do) that hurt me, they would literally act like I said nothing at all.

I took this for years until one day, I wrote them about the pattern and how I wasn't going to tolerate it anymore. In true "them" fashion, they didn't respond and when I ran into them months later, they acted like I never said anything. "Old Shellie" would've probably cussed them out right there in the mall. "New Shellie" greeted them, had small talk and walked away knowing that they didn't deserve for me to be a close friend to them; casual acquaintances is more than fine. The same thing can apply to you. Your need for folks to acknowledge where you are coming from isn't asking too much. If they are don't want to meet the need, make adjustments in your interaction with them. For your own protection and well-being.

Step 4: ​Avoid over-indulging your feelings. 

You know how sometimes a child will continue to scream until either you give them what they want or they wear themselves out? A lot of adults are the same way. It's a harsh reality but you can't make people do anything that they don't want to do. Once you're in touch with your feelings and the purpose behind them and you share that with someone else, it's up to them to validate you—or not.

If they couldn't, say, care less that you are sad, staying sad changes nothing. All it does it make you feel worse. Be intentional about honoring your emotions and working through them rather than wallowing in them. Again, already being sad and then getting sadder because someone doesn't choose to see you is futile. Besides, you deserve better.

See things for what they are and then move on to my final suggestion.

Step 5: ​Be solutions-oriented. 

You know something else that self-aware people do? They find a way to validate their own feelings while working towards how they can find a solution within them. Folks who lack self-awareness will just stay in their feelings with no plan or goal for shoot…ever, if they can. It took me a long time to break the cycle that I grew up in and was surrounded by. But man, I don't have one relationship now where I am not able to express my feelings and not feel heard/validated. I try and make sure that everyone in my world—personally and professionally—can say the same thing about me. Because when the "problem" of me feeling some type of way comes up, my peeps and I work together to find a solution—even if it's just to understand where I'm coming from.

Bottom line, you have feelings for a purpose and they deserve to be validated. Settle for nothing less, sis. No relationship works, in a healthy way, when you settle. Straight up. I would know.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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