Stop Asking People To Prove Their Feelings

When someone shares what life is like for them, believe them.

Emily Steele
3 min readAug 7, 2023

I vividly remember listening to an audiobook about white privilege during the “height” of the racial injustices & debates back in 2020ish.

(“Height” in quotations because I realize this is a relative & subjective term. What felt like the “height” to me might be different for others.)

I couldn’t quite make sense of so many of the new-to-me narratives and societal under-weavings.

The term “white privilege” didn’t sitting well with me at first.

I talked to my other white friends about it.

I felt defensive.

I kept trying (in my head) to rebut the “arguments” I was hearing, trying to poke holes in them and disprove them. Like that was even possible, given I had never had any of the experiences about which these people were sharing. Like feelings needed statistics to be real.

I remember asking myself one day, “What would happen if I just believed people?”

So often, this is all I want, myself, when I’m hurting, sad, frustrated, unable to perfectly communicate my experiences to someone. I just want someone to say, “Hey, even though I don’t get it, even though I can’t put myself in your shoes right now: I believe you. I believe what you’re feeling is real.”

So now, when I hear or read about someone’s experience, even when (especially when) it’s different than mine — a black woman, a gay person, a mom, a male (all things I am not)I try my hardest to begin by just believing them. Not trying to put myself in their shoes (although this is nice, sure). Not trying to think of examples that confirm or refute their feelings. Not trying to imagine how I would feel/what I would do if it were me. Not trying to do anything, except… believe them.

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Because why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t we?

As a woman, I know this is what *I* want when I speak up about how it feels to be a female in the world.

I don’t want (or need) anyone to say “Well that’s never happened to me” or “Why didn’t you just say XYZ?” I don’t want anyone telling me my experiences don’t make sense or that I’m making a “big deal” out of “nothing” or that they would have handled it differently. I just want someone to hear what I’m saying, suspend their analysis for just a moment and say, in more words or less, “I believe you.”

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It made me wonder:

when someone is brave enough to share with us how they see the world, what would happen if we just started with believing them?

It wouldn’t mean we couldn’t ask questions to better understand. It wouldn’t mean we’d have to drop our own beliefs. It wouldn’t mean we had to put a stamp of approval on anything. It is, after all, just someone’s subjective experience in the world.

What if people’s courage in sharing about what it feels like to be them in the world was just an invitation to be curious and make room for a feeling to be felt? Maybe our defensiveness and desire to de-validate someone’s experience by “evidence” (statistics, anecdotal experience, etc) really points to our own discomfort more than anything.

→ If it’s challenging to abstain from wanting evidence, what might that mean? If it’s hard to just believe someone’s feeling, what might that mean?



Emily Steele

lifter of heavy things: thoughts, words, weights, burdensome beliefs