Validation is an important part of any relationship, including the relationship you have with yourself. Validation is what makes you feel heard and respected. It’s crucial that you learn to both validate others and yourself.
Validation means to confirm, to verify, to authenticate. Validation can be verbal or nonverbal. It helps you deepen relationships. When validating others, you make them feel heard and respected. When validating yourself, you provide that same comfort on your own.
When a person confides in you, they are not usually looking for advice or problem-solving unless they specifically ask for it. Rather, they are looking for validation. If you are not used to validating, here are some suggestions. There is no greater way to set a person at ease.
Levels of Validation
There are six levels of validation that you can employ consecutively or simultaneously.
Level 1: Listening
Focus on listening and observing to the other person. Stay aware of what they’re happening and be in the moment. Show interest in the other person through verbal and nonverbal cues. Demonstrate that you are paying attention through eye contact and asking questions.
Perhaps your mom is upset about her cat dying. When she is talking and crying, nod your head and hold her hand. You might ask her to share what she loved about her cat.
Level 2: Restating
Focus on accurate reflection. Restate what the person said then ask, “is that right?” Take a nonjudgmental stance toward the person and be matter-of-fact. You don’t actually have to agree with the person in order to validate their feelings. You are simply restating how they are feeling.
For example, a friend might say “my therapist doesn’t like me.” You might know that’s not true however you can validate your friend by saying “you are feeling really certain she hates you.”
Level 3: Observing
Focus on observing and stating the unspoken. Restate what the person’s nonverbal cues are. Try to “read” a person’s behavior, imagine what they could be feeling, thinking or wishing for. Remember to check for accuracy. It is best to not make assumptions.
Your brother is talking about how he does all the housework and his partner only spends a few minutes a week helping cut the grass. Now, they want your brother to do the grass too. He is clenching his fist and flexing his jaw while he speaks. You might say “You seem really angry at your spouse. You’re thinking it’s unfair to ask that of you.”
Level 4: Causation
Focus on the causes of behaviors including those in the past and present. Restate the past and connect it to current issue. Validate the person’s behavior in terms of causes like past events present events even when it may be triggered based on dysfunctional association.
Your sister is afraid to meet with her new boss. After listening to her story, you might say “since your new boss reminds you of your last one, I can see why you’d be scared to meet with her.”
Level 5: Assessing
Focus on person’s history and point out how current response is not effective. Restate the past and connect it to current choices. Communicate that the person’s behavior is understandable and whether or not it is effective.
Your partner cancelled a job interview because they were nervous. You might say “it seems very normal to be nervous before a job interview, however you won’t get the job you want if you don’t go.”
Level 6: Compassion
Focus on treating the person as an equal. Express hope for the person and show you genuinely believe the person is capable of change. Treat them as valid. Do not be patronizing or condescending. Recognize the person as they are with strengths and limitations. Give them equal status and equal respect. Be genuine with them about your reactions to them and about yourself. Believe in the other person while seeing their struggles and pain.
Your friend has been divorced for three years. He feels uncomfortable doing activities with other couples because he is the only single person in the group. You might say “I totally get why you feel that way. I think most people would feel the same in your situation. It’s really brave of you to participate despite your discomfort.”
Invalidation negates or dismisses behavior independent of the actual validity of the behavior. It means to weaken, to nullify, to cancel, to reject, or to dismiss.
Examples of Invalidating Behavior
1. Rejecting self-description as inaccurate.
You just passed a difficult math test. You said that you feel like Einstein. Your dad says, “you don’t know what you are talking about.”
2. Rejecting a natural response.
You are really into watching your favorite show and don’t feel like doing your chores. Your mom says, “he doesn’t want to do his chores because he’s being a brat.”
3. Rejecting a response to events as incorrect or ineffective.
Your favorite teacher yelled at you today and you just told your sister what happened. She said, “that’s stupid to feel that way. She’s just a teacher.”
4. Dismissing or disregarding.
Your beloved dog just was hit by a car. Your brother says, “oh well, stuff happens.”
5. Directly criticizing or punishing.
You are at your grandpa’s birthday party. Grandma cuts the cake and you pass out the slices. You accidentally drop one of the plates. Grandma says, “you idiot. You don’t deserve birthday cake if you just smear it all over my floor.”
6. Rejecting and linking responses to socially unacceptable characteristics.
You are helping your grandpa in the garage. One of the bigger tools falls on your fingers. Your grandpa says, “crying means you are weak. Suck it up.”
The Impact of Invalidation
Invalidation can make you feel awful. It can lead to longer term consequences such as:
- Learning not to trust yourself, instead relying on the social environment for the correct response.
- Problems regulating emotions because you withhold or ignore emotions or are extremely emotional.
- Susceptibility to perfectionism, sensitivity to failure, and forming unrealistic goals.
- Responses to and views of the world that are not accurate.
- Looking to others to tell you how to do things.
Consider what if feels like to be validated and invalidated. Notice how people respond when you ask for validation and take note of what works and what doesn’t. Then try using those behaviors yourself.
How can you apply these skills to yourself? How can you change the language of validation in order to talk to yourself?
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