I want to talk a little about un-validating. (I think the actual correct word for this is “invalidating”, but “un” is the prefix that makes the most sense to me in this context. More on that in a minute.
I started thinking about this because of a Facebook status from a friend. I’ll try not to be too specific, since I didn’t get her permission to disclose the specifics of her situation. But, the jyst is that she was feeling very vulnerable in a particular situation, specifically based on the fact that she is a blind woman. Her status was very expressive and eloquent, and I related to her concerns, as a blind woman myself. I commented and said as such, but noticed other comments to the tune of, “This isn’t just a problem for blind people; as a woman, I deal with this every day” and “I support whatever you have to do to feel comfortable”, with the underlying tone that my friend was overreacting.
Thing is, I also related to the way it feels to receive those well-intentioned comments. As much as sometimes it feels nice to know that you’re not alone, other times being told that feels like the well-meaning person is trying to minimize my feelings. That’s where the “un” comes in. The other person is taking a completely valid feeling, in this case vulnerability and fear, and trying to make it not valid by minimizing it into just one of those things we all have to deal with sometimes. (There’s a “don’t you worry your pretty little head” and a cheek pat in here somewhere.)
Thing is, feeling vulnerable because of my disability IS a very real thing. Yes, women can relate to me because I am also a woman, but no, sighted women cannot relate to me in a very specific way, because I am blind. I’m not exactly saying I have it worse, or campaigning for pity, but I do think that minimizing blind people’s concerns about safety does a disservice.
A personal example for me is when I sometimes complain about how much attention people give Kiva when we are working. Absolutely lovely, well-meaning people will say, “Well, if it makes you feel better, people are just as obnoxious with other dogs too.” While it’s nice to know there are other frustrated dog owners, there is also an element to my concern that is safety related. I rely on Kiva to keep me safe. When she’s distracted by other people making fools of themselves trying to impress her, that puts my safety on the line. Even if it’s as minimal as she misses a curb and we trip unceremoniously into the street because someone is making kissy faces at her, those lapses in Kiva’s concentration are not ok for us as a team. Next time it might not be as inoccuous as just a curb.
Of course, there is no easy or “right” solution to this un-validating. It just comes down to consideration. For example, maybe rather than trying to make someone feel better by saying how everyone feels that way, perhaps validating the feelings and offering support or just an open space for dialogue is a better solution. Trust me, that can make all the difference.