Human emotions are complex. They are also unique to each and every person. This means that each person experiences emotions differently. If a group of five people who were sad were asked to describe their experience of sadness, we would more than likely get five different responses. Why? Because emotions are private experiences. Emotions are part of a complex tapestry including human temperament, life experiences, relationships, and perceptions. No two people are completely alike.
In my counseling and therapy practice in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia and West Chester, Pennsylvania my clients tell me about their feelings and emotions and how they were responded to by the people in their lives. Since I work with issue involving, addiction, codependency, depression, chronic pain, etc., learning self- care and self- advocacy is of primary focus. In order to build these important skills one needs to learn how validate themselves. This is harder than one might imagine, especially if the person has been exposed or is living in an invalidating environment.
So, what is validation? Validation is to recognize and accept another person’s thoughts and feelings, regardless of whether or not you feel that they should be experiencing them. Validation helps us to develop a sense of self-worth. People who are validated feel reassured that they will be accepted and loved regardless of their feelings, while those who are not validated are more vulnerable to emotional and behavioral problems and relational difficulties.
We can validate another person by paying attention and reflecting back what we heard them share with us, asking questions, and identifying with them. This helps all of us feel “part of” and less alone. We can easily overlook the fact that ignoring others or neglecting to acknowledge them is indeed invalidation. This is why childhood neglect is considered abuse.
Here are a few everyday ways of validating one another. These can be built into how we communicate over the course of time and help improve relationships.
- Listen with empathy and genuine concern, being careful to stay in the moment. Display interest and engagement through verbally and non-verbally: Nod and maintain eye contact, and use verbal replies such as “Yes” and “I understand.”
- Be responsive by reflecting back what the other person has shared. For example, “It sounds like you were very hurt that your friend didn’t call you back.” Check for accuracy by asking “Is that right?”
- Observe and articulate the individual’s unspoken feelings and emotions, based on what he or she says as well as nonverbal cues. Ask if your observations are accurate. For example, “So you are frustrated when your friend does not communicate directly with you about plans – That when she doesn’t call by a certain time that it means that she cannot follow through. You cannot accept that way of interacting. Is that correct?”
- Communicate that you are aware of the “bigger picture” of the person’s feeling or emotion. Acknowledge that his or her current emotions are understandable within the context of his or her past experiences and/or present circumstances. For example, “Considering that you grew up in an alcoholic home with little stability, it is understandable that you would feel anxiety when cancels plans with you and things are uncertain.”
We can validate one another quite readily if we pay attention and seek out opportunities to do so. Validation strengthens relationships, communities and reduces conflict.
What is your experience with validation?