What makes something a “real” experience?
After marrying two sisters a mere week apart, the Torah says that Yaakov loved Rachel even more than he loved Leah (29:30). The clear implication is that he loved Leah, as well, albeit to a lesser degree. Surprisingly, the very next verse states that Hashem saw that Leah was hated, so He blessed her to bear Yaakov’s first children to gain his affection.
Leah was hated?! Didn’t the previous verse just tell us that Yaakov loved her, too?
The truth is, notwithstanding Yaakov’s intentions, Leah felt hated. Whatever love Yaakov demonstrated toward Leah was negligible, since in the end Leah did not perceive it. As she saw her husband treat the other wife – her younger sister! – with more affection, Leah did not feel loved at all. And because this was Leah’s reality, this is how Hashem dealt with her. Hashem validated her emotions, and helped her as the “hated” wife, because that is how she felt!
This is an important lesson in relating to those going through a difficult time. When hearing others complain about their hardships, there is a tendency to “help” by explaining why there is no objective reason to be upset. They didn’t mean it that way. It’s not as bad as you think. I’m sure things will work out in the end. While the person providing reassurance may have the best of intentions, these remarks can often have the opposite effect. Far from feeling relieved, such dismissals can often compound a person’s pain or worry by adding a sense of feeling invalidated and misunderstood.
It may seem hard to support someone through a “crisis” that one does not perceive to be a problem at all. The following mindset can help: A person’s experiences and emotions are just as “real” as any objective fact, in the sense that the person really feels that way! Instead of dismissively explaining why there is no reason to feel hurt, we can provide real comfort – like Hashem did for Leah – by validating a person’s real experience of the problem.