Before we begin, what is validation? The literal definition is “the recognition of a person’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors as valid and understandable”, and signifies that someone’s experience is heard. Validation is not applying a judgment to a thought, feeling, or behavior. Validating someone means we are not seeking to fix or change anything. It is also not simply empathy alone, but an active choice to meet somewhere where they are at and listen to their experience.
Roots in Early Years
- Invalidation in childhood has been studied heavily by Psychologist Marsha M Linehan, Ph.D. Marsha observed that growing up in an environment where one’s emotions may have been ignored, minimized, or punished is a potential cause of the onset of psychological health conditions like depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Invalidation, in both children and adults, impacts one’s sense of worthiness and often leads to feelings of anger, shame, and guilt. Whereas, validation allows us to connect to our parents, express emotions (safely), and develop a secure sense of self. It helps us establish a foundation that strengthens relationships, helps us feel understood by others, and creates healthy communication patterns.
Validation in Adulthood
- The same is true in adulthood. We can have a validating childhood and model of healthy connection, and find ourselves in romantic, platonic, or professional relationships that are invalidating. Similar feelings and psychological effects may arise. We can also have experienced a pattern of invalidation, minimizing, or ignoring emotional experiences in childhood and attach to interpersonal or professional relationships with similar patterns. We may look for and seek to feel validated, to be seen and heard, in many different spheres. Such as romantic relationships, friendships, social media, career, and many more – seeking to find or establish our sense of self.
- As adults, we can learn to extend to ourselves what we did not receive in childhood or what we do not receive now. Ultimately, we can not rely on anyone else to validate our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We must make consistent efforts to start with self-validation. To begin with recognizing and confirming our own emotional experience and worthiness. We can practice taking care of ourselves, establishing boundaries with those who impact our well-being, and bring awareness to our experiences. Self-validation re-establishes and strengthens our worthiness, self-esteem, and confidence.
Developing Validation & Relating to Others
- As we learn and recognize past moments of invalidation, and begin to practice self-validation, we can start to create communities that validate our emotional world. For example, therapists model what validation looks like, validate clients, and assist in building new validation patterns. Bringing awareness to what you need and how yourself and others can validate and meet those needs, strengthens your sense of self and helps us relate to others. You do have the power to decide who you want to share your emotional experiences with and who may not respond in the way that you need.
Here are a few examples of validating statements:
- How are you feeling?
- What is this like for you?
- This must be difficult for you.
- You are not alone
- I hear you/what you’re saying.
- I believe you.
- I’m sorry to hear that.
- Can I help you with some problem-solving?
- Most people would have reacted in that way.
- I don’t have the same beliefs, but I can see this is important to you.
- I would be (scared, upset, sad, etc.) too.
- I can see you are making an effort.
- I can see that you are very (sad, upset, frightened, etc.).
- You are very strong and brave.
- How is this affecting you?
Written by Chardyce Kott, LSW