A survivor may be sad, angry, laughing, or showing no emotion at all. They may feel all of these emotions in one day. These are all normal reactions to an abnormal experience. There is no “right” or “wrong” way for a survivor to respond to their own experience. Each person responds differently, and there is no right or wrong way to feel about something.
Once we have identified how someone might be feeling, the next step is to communicate to the other person that we picked up on that feeling, and that the feeling is normal. How can we do that? What could we say (or ask) our partner to demonstrate that we and validate that feeling for them?
- It sounds like you’re feeling……….
- It’s understandable that you’re…….
- It’s ok to feel……….
- That must have been a very unsettling / scary / confusing / uncomfortable / frightening experience.”
- That sounds like a normal reaction to a difficult situation.
Don’t get too caught up on trying to identify the “right” feeling. It won’t halt or derail the conversation. If you say, “It sounds like you’re feeling pretty angry right now,” and that’s not right, they’ll say, “no, actually, I’m [embarrassed],” and they’ll keep talking. It’s better to identify an emotion and have them give us another one than to say nothing at all.
Normalizing feelings in the context of COVID-19
COVID-19 is combining the personal and professional in unprecedented ways. Furthermore, people may be housed alone or in close quarters with a person or people for prolonged periods. While some people may be enjoying this time, and others may really be struggling. It’s important to acknowledge that we don’t all feel the same and aren’t experiencing the same things.
You should normalize and validate someone’s feelings. It’s easy to be comparative and downplay one’s discomfort – maybe they still have their job or haven’t gotten sick, but it’s valid to feel whatever they’re feeling.
If someone is feeling unsafe, campus resources are still available virtually and community resources are available virtually and in-person. You can find them at: safe.unc.edu.