Feeling unheard and dismissed is probably one of the worst feelings there is. Venting off your emotions and ending the conversation with the sense that you have not obtained validation can leave you feeling defeated. It adds salt to open wounds.
When I am venting, I usually am not looking for an opinion. I need someone to listen and hopefully validate my feelings or say nothing at all and let me ramble. What I most certainly do not need while I’m venting my frustrations, under any circumstance, is a silver lining.
A silver lining is an English-language idiom meaning an optimistic perspective. Whenever someone says “at least” there is a good chance that a silver lining is coming. Silver linings help you see the positive in a situation and allow you to identify and express gratitude. Finding a silver lining can sound something like a cute, sweet grandma saying to her husband, “we may be old and wrinkled, but at least we have each other.”
Silver linings keep us optimistic and looking at the brighter side of life, but they are not appropriate in every situation. For some, a silver lining comes automatically. Giving someone a positive outlook of a situation can become habitual. Someone tells you a sad story or vents their anger, and BOOM, you hit them with the silver lining. You think you’re doing them a favor. Your friend is sad or angry. Why wouldn’t they want to be happy again, and what is a better way to be happy again than to help them see the bright side of things?
Just because your friend is venting his or her sadness or frustrations doesn’t mean they are unable to see the bigger picture. They know their entire life hasn’t gone to shit, and they are not trying to make that implication. Sometimes they may say something along the lines of “everything is ruined!” but we can take that as hyperbole.
Providing a silver lining, even with the best of intentions, can come off degrading and dismissive. It is another way of saying, I know you’re upset, but your upset is unjustified because you are focused on the wrong thing. Instead, focus on this.
Yes, I know I am fortunate to have a job during the pandemic, but this does not take away from the fact that my clients are treating me poorly during a time of high stress. To say “at least you are still employed” implies that I lack gratitude and invalidates my feelings. I can feel gratitude and frustration at the same time. Just because there is good fortune in a situation doesn’t mean that some bad can’t come along with it, and people deserve to have a moment to express their frustrations without having their frustrations diminished.
Here is a common one: being told that your loved one is in a better place now. I would never express anger when someone says this to me because I know it comes with good intentions, but I find the phrase despicable. The sentence doesn’t need to have at least in it. The at least is implied. If one of your loved ones has ever suddenly passed away, you know this line is not in any way helpful or comforting. At least nothing. Your loved one should not be in heaven or whatever the afterlife. Your loved one should be sitting next to you, clinking glasses, sharing more laughs and memories.
Next time your friend is venting to you, think before you respond. Are you going to provide a silver lining that is dismissive of their negative emotions? Instead, offer your support by validating their feelings. Repeat what they have said and express that they are right to feel angry or sad about the situation. Offer an opinion or advice if, and only if, you are asked to provide it. And whatever you do, do not add a silver lining.