Validation is a powerful way of connecting with others – through acknowledgement of their thoughts and feelings. It’s is also a powerful way of connecting with yourself through acknowledgement of your own thoughts and feelings.
Like empathy, validation often requires digging into difficult emotions for the sake of communicating to self or others that these emotions are real; that they are understandable.
Why is validation important? Let me back up, our instinct is to argue against the pain we see others experience. For example, when a loved one expresses that he or she is struggling, the impulse often is to say “no, you’re doing great!” The difficulty with this sort of response is that the person who is struggling is often then thinking of all the ways to further argue their point – to prove that they are suffering, to prove that they are in pain, etc. Validation, however, sounds like: “I’m so sorry you’re struggling. You are tired; you are trying hard. This is a tough experience that you are going through.” It brings down the defenses. It alleviates the need to prove. It helps to make a person feel understood and known. It’s a soothing balm where then coping can then take place.
Sometimes it takes work to find ways to validate and connect when someone who is really struggling. It’s worthwhile work, though. Try it – try finding what is true and valid about someone else’s experience. Verbalize it. Connect on whatever level you can. Notice what happens. It does not have to mean that you are justifying or agreeing – simply connecting, validating the human experience. Perhaps you feel that someone is having irrational feelings - a child is throwing a tantrum over something seemingly small, for instance. Validate that when we are tired and hungry, we sometimes get extra upset over things. Validate that the emotions can feel powerful and be scary. Validate that it’s hard to feel out-of-control.
Validation can be verbal and non-verbal. Non-verbal validation is eye contact and nodding and giving someone your full, present attention. Verbal validation is noticing the emotion, putting words to it. Sharing that that feeling makes sense, is real, is authentic. It’s reflection. It’s digging into the times you have felt something similar to help communicate that those feelings are real and, in some way, universal, certainly common.
Self-validation is important, too. It is reassurance to yourself that what you are feeling is authentic and important. How often do you find yourself shaming your own emotions? How would it change things for you to respond to your own emotions with “that response makes sense,” or “that emotions is understandable considering the circumstances”? The defenses come down, there is kindness to be had. Self-validation, self-compassion breads freedom, shame is isolating and paralyzing. Self-validation allows for the release of energy that is otherwise spent in self-doubt and self-justification. This energy can be better spent in acceptance, building self-worth, and utilizing coping skills.
Validation is a wonderful tool to practice in the pursuit of connecting with yourself and with others.