Though validation may be an unfamiliar term, I am willing to bet validation and its opposite, invalidation, are familiar sensations. I can imagine many of us have been on the receiving end of invalidation, and for lack of a better word, it sucks. We’ve been told we are being dramatic, “shouldn’t” feel how we are feeling, “just forget about it”, or have had someone rattle off a list of “solutions” to a problem we didn’t ask them to solve. As well intentioned as it may be, this often leaves us feeling hurt, confused or frustrated. Validation on the other hand, leads us to feeling heard and understood. Validation is communicating understanding of another person’s emotions, thoughts and perspective in a given situation. In working towards being more validating we improve our interactions with others by showing that we are listening and understand. This can help us more easily resolve conflict, and make other people more willing to hear what we have to say. While these are all awesome reasons to boost those warm vibes that come with validation, the most compelling reason is that invalidation hurts. During a period where we are spending A LOT of time around the people we live with, and not nearly enough with the people we don’t, I imagine we could all use less conflict and more closeness.
I’m hoping at this point we have made a strong argument for improving our validation skills, in which case let’s look at some tips to get the ball rolling.
1. Pay Attention
We want to pay attention to some of those nonverbal forms of communication here. For example, checking your phone or the time when someone is expressing themselves or rolling your eyes communicate that what is being said isn’t important.
2. “Read Minds”
Here we want to figure out what is going on with a person emotionally, even when they haven’t told us in words.
- A friend, visibly groggy, tells you they got no sleep last night = “You must be feeling tired”
- Your partner received the promotion they have been hoping for = “That must be really exciting!”
Of course, with this there is always the possibility we’ve guessed what someones feeling incorrectly, be open to correction!
3. Validating is not the same as agreeing
We don’t have to like or agree with what someone is doing, saying or feeling to validate them. Validating means understanding where the other person is coming from.
- Your child does not want to do their homework when told because they struggle with math = “It’s really frustrating being told to do your math homework when you have a hard time with it”
- Your friend is angry with you because a mutual friend told them you said something hurtful that you did not say = “ I can understand why you are mad at me since Jenna told you i said that”
4. Show Equality
Respond to the other person as having equal status with yourself and being entitled to the same respect. This can be especially important in relationships like parent/child where there is a power difference. Like we said before, using validation makes someone more open to hearing us and can lead to less “fight” when asking for or wanting a behavioral change in your kids.
5. When we don’t understand, you can communicate that too
It can be really hard to validate when you don’t understand the person’s point of view or their feelings or behaviors make no sense to you. An alternate strategy can be to admit you don’t understand but want to, asking for more conversation.
When validation is used as a parent, you increase the likelihood your child comes to you for support, improve their ability to cope with bullying, as well as help them better trust themselves and their emotions. In other relationships, validation is a useful tool in developing closeness and connection, reducing defensiveness, and in turn , conflict. An extra perk is that when we validate others, we show others how to validate us, and increase the possibility of getting to experience the satisfying relief that comes with feeling understood. If you are not yet convinced of the power of validation, challenge yourself to intentionally validate someone today and feel the results!
– Melissa Quinn, LMHC, CDBT
Nourish Your Mind Psychotherapist