If women hold themselves to a higher standard and clearly communicate what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, we will begin to experience a strong sisterhood
Recall the last time you opened up to a friend, baring your soul and pouring out everything that was eating you up, only to be told that whatever was bothering you wasn’t that deep, or that you were just making things up or that you should suck it up and get over it. Because your friend couldn’t relate to your experience, they told you that your experience wasn’t true. Recall how that made you feel. Perhaps, you felt naked and left in the rain. You regretted ever opening up to this person and promised yourself to never open up to anyone again. Does this sound familiar? Maybe it has happened not just once, but twice or you’ve even lost count of the number of times you have experienced this. Most of the time, you let it slide, especially if it was a close friend. You decide to move on from it, making up excuses in your head to justify the said behaviour, thinking that maybe that’s just how they are. But truth is, being in a relationship with a friend who constantly invalidates your thoughts and feelings is detrimental to your mental and psychological health.
It might seem inconsequential, but this kind of behaviour has a massive impact on your self-esteem and overall development. It communicates that you do not matter at all, that nothing you say matters or is irrelevant. The friend who invalidates your feelings and experiences does not actually care about you. Friends who refuse to acknowledge that they’ve hurt your feelings are not the kind of people you want to call “friend“. As a matter of fact, we need to be very careful with the way we throw the F-word around.
Many of us grew up being told that women are women’s worst enemies and today, we’re seeing a movement that’s calling for true sisterhood. Women are beginning to change the narrative by investing in strong female friendships. And this kind of sisterhood can only become a reality when we raise the bar on what true friendship really means. When we accept toxic behaviours from our “friends”, what we’re indeed communicating is that we do not love or value ourselves. True friendship should make you feel safe, not insecure. True friendship should make you feel seen and heard. True friendship should feel like therapy that you’re actually not paying for.
You do not need to relate to someone to understand where they are coming from. You do not need to have personally experienced something to understand how that feels on the receiving end, and even if you do not understand it, the least you can do is validate their feelings and make them feel heard. What is friendship without compassion and empathy? Friendships are not only about laughter, happy memories and good times. Friendships are so much more than that. It is about sisterhood. It is about knowing that you can come to the other person about anything, whenever and whatever it is, and not end up feeling like you’re out naked in the rain. Friendship isn’t about telling the other person to “get over it”, “stop overreacting” or that “it’s not that deep”. And if you’re friends with someone who tells you this every time you open up to them, you really need to start evaluating why you’re friends with this person in the first place.
Whenever something affects you deeply, then it really is a big deal. And what you do not want is someone telling you that those feelings are false or that you’re too sensitive. People who invalidate the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others do not in fact know, that by doing this, they’re invalidating the person as a whole. You’re allowed to talk about what upsets you, no matter how subtle it may be. You’re allowed to hold people and friends accountable for their actions or omissions. You’re allowed to keep talking about something, even if others tell you to get over it. Your feelings, emotions and experiences are valid, no matter how much time has passed. And you’re allowed to take time before you move on.
If women hold themselves to a higher standard and clearly communicate what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, we will begin to experience a stronger sisterhood and a richer quality of female friendships. This will in turn help women gain more confidence in standing up against bigger problems such as racism, misogyny and social exclusion. Your feelings and experiences as a woman will always matter, and you do not need anyone in your life who makes you feel otherwise.
Wardah Abbas is the Founding Editor of The Muslim Women Times. She is a Lawyer, Writer and Social Justice activist.