Many people still don’t understand the power of therapy and tend to think:
- How can a stranger help me?
- What is the point of going and venting over and over?
- What can somebody see something I can’t see in my own life
But situations like the following make me realize the importance of one of the main concepts people learn and experience in therapy. Validation!
Client tells with a confused look in his eyes and trying to contain the pain. I really don’t share much. I am close to my family but really never shared with them much. Ummm interesting. I don’t share much with my partner either….maybe I am just an introvert. I like to process things on my own. Ummm more interesting
Yesterday for example, my mom called and asked how my week was. It wasn’t too good but when was going to share a particular situation she proceeded to start telling me what happened to her and he realized her week was much worse than his so he wanted to be there for her. However, during the session it turns out that a part of him felt good for being supportive of his mother and in comparison his week not being so bad. On the other hand, another part of him felt alone, kinda of angry and confused. What happened in this innocent, more common than not family interaction: there is no validation of feelings, reality or internal experience from the listener to the person sharing. When that is a big part of any relationship there is no depth or healthy intimacy. So what is VALIDATION? Are you familiar with this word? Unfortunately this very important word is not part of most people language. For many people, validation is a foreign concept. No wonder more mental disorders are diagnosed on daily basis and new ones are being added to the DSM-IV (The Diagnostic of Mental Health Disorders)
What Validation Is
Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding, and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional experience. See a good apology. Emotional validation is distinguished from emotional invalidation, in which another person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged. (Feil, Naomi, Validation Institute, 2012)
To validate someone’s feelings is first to be open and curious about someone’s feelings. Next, it is to understand them, and finally it is to nurture them. Validation doesn’t mean that you have to agree with or that the other person’s experience has to make sense to you. On the other hand, it is to leave your own interpretations and opinions and be open to how other people can have different ones.
When we validate someone, we allow them to safely share their feelings and thoughts. We are reassuring them that it is okay to have the feelings they have. We are demonstrating that we will still accept them after they have shared their feelings. We let them know that we respect their perception of things at that moment. We help them feel heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted.
Sometimes validation entails listening and waiting for the person to share instead of running into problem solving, sometimes it is a nod or a sign of agreement or understanding, sometimes it can be a hug or a gentle touch. Sometimes it means being patient when the other person is not ready to talk. It is a feedback however, so it is important to emphasize that silence doesn’t qualify as a validating answer.
Painful feelings that are expressed, acknowledged and validated by a trusted listener will diminish. Painful feelings that are ignored will gain strength.
To validate is to acknowledge and accept one’s unique identity and individuality. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignore, or judge their feelings, and hence, their individual identity. This is why invalidation is too dangerous and harmful. When we invalidate somebody’s feelings the message people get is that their experience is wrong or that there is something wrong with them. Obviously, the closer the relationship the more damaging the effect.
Invalidation has been suggested as one of the primary reasons people’s mental problems including cutting, burning and injuring behaviors.
It is the one common factor to most people who self-injure, whether they were abused or not. They were taught at an early age that their interpretations of and feelings about the things around them were bad and wrong. They learned that certain feelings weren’t allowed. In abusive homes, they may have been severely punished for expressing certain thoughts and feelings. In households were adults don’t know neither model how to deal with feelings, there is an implicit sense of invalidation because of the absence of talking about them.
This reminds me of something somebody told me once a while ago, “The best gift we can all give to our children is the validation of their feelings.” I didn’t quite understand it back then but just try to remember it and do it. It makes so much sense to me now.
Based on all of that, here I leave you with some specific ways to start validating yourself and the people around you. In short time, you will see how your mental health can really improve. Also, if after reading this, you realized how there is a lack of validation from your loved ones, start asking for it. You deserve and we all have the right to it. The simplest way to remember any of this, is to remember that nobody can ever tell that you aren’t supposed to feel the way you feel
Basic Steps to Validation
Acknowledging the other person’s feelings
Identifying the feelings
Offering to listen (see EQ-Based Listening)
Helping them label the feelings
Being there for them; remaining present physically and emotionally
Feeling accepting and non-judgmental
I hear you.
That’s not good
That’s no fun
Wow, that’s a lot to deal with
I would feel the same way.
(I’d feel sad/hurt/angry/jealous, etc. too.
That is sad.
That sounds discouraging.
That sounds like it would really hurt
That must really hurt.
I know just what you mean.
I would feel the same way.
I can understand how you feel.
It sounds like you are really feeling ____.
It sounds like _____ is really important to you.
- The Power of Validation by Karyn Hall, PhD. Melissa Cook, LPC