Here is a scenario we have all been a part of, even if the roles may look different.
Your partner comes home from work in an obvious bad mood. You ask what’s wrong and she explains it. Immediately, you jump to solutions on how you think the problem should be fixed. She starts crying and moves to another room and avoids you the rest of the night. “What’s her deal? Why would she be so upset when I gave her real solutions to her problem?” Her deal most likely is that she didn’t feel heard.
The emotional consequences of feeling invalidated have now exacerbated the original problem. She’s gone through the solutions all day by herself, but this does not remove the residual emotional hardship. She wants support from her partner and you want to fix the problem for her. The most likely reasons for this are that you do not want to see her in pain and you want to feel like you did something for her. We so often go into “fix it” mode for our loved ones before taking a moment to let them feel heard.
We’ve all been either one of these people. We want to alleviate the pain of our loved ones somehow that we unintentionally cause pain. Another instance in which this happens a lot is with children. We want to quickly distract them from any kind of pain because it’s unbearable to watch them suffer emotionally. However, making sure to take the time to go over what happened and letting them process age appropriately ensures they will recover better in the long run. An environment that is chronically invalidating can lead to damaging consequences like stunting the development of emotional regulation and self-esteem.
So, what exactly is validation?
Validation is letting the other person know that you hear them by affirming their thoughts, feelings, or experience. Validation is not saying that they are right, wrong, or anything else. It allows the other person to feel that their lived experience is accepted. Some basic phrases when you don’t know what else to say can be:
“I can see how you feel that way.”
“That sounds like a very difficult decision to make. You must be feeling so anxious.”
“I hear you.”
A good first step to validating your loves ones when they reach out for emotional support is to practice mindfulness (being in the now).
Asking about everything every detail that happened and thinking into the future for solutions means you’re not focusing on the present. When you are able to focus on the here and now and listen to your loved one – just having that mindful presence and being with them as they relive their day can provide comfort. Putting yourself into the perspective of the other person also helps. A little empathy and understanding can go a long way. We have all invalidated others and most likely this was done unintentionally. We want to alleviate the pain of our loved ones quickly and in the process, we actually cause pain. This does not mean we are bad people, we just have not practiced the art of validation enough.
It is common to immediately go into fix-it mode, especially when we are uncomfortable with emotions ourselves. We can become overly logical and start to explain to the other person why they feel that they feel without listening to them first. We all get distracted and struggle to fully give our full attention. That’s why it’s important to listen, listen, and listen some more in order to best convey that we truly hear the other person.
Oftentimes, the world is an invalidating place. Like I said, we are both the invalidated and the invalidators.
We can do the best we can for making sure to actively listen and assume the best intentions of others but sometimes we still feel unheard and misunderstood. We cannot always expect our loved ones to be validation machines as neither can we! Interactions with others are often hurried and not as intentional and mindful as they could be. We live in busy times and have several things going on in our heads at once. Keeping this in mind, sometimes we just feel unheard and invalidated. This is where self-validation comes along.
Self-validation is a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skill that assists on accepting the emotions are feelings.
DBT has skills for four core areas: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. Self-validation helps with emotional regulation because it allows you to focus on how you feel without judging yourself or your feelings. It brings other DBT skills together like wise mind, mindfulness, and radical acceptance. It can be very difficult to be nonjudgmental about your emotions (we all think we should just be rational about everything that happens without getting “too emotional” about it) but I will list the steps the author Sheri Van Dijk provided in her book DBT Made Simple.
The first step to self-validation is to acknowledge the emotion or emotions you are feeling in the moment without judgment. Notice how you are feeling. Are you angry, jealous, or sad? Acknowledge what you feel by telling yourself “I am angry” instead of something like “I am being crazy right now.”
The second step is to allow yourself to feel what you feel no matter how uncomfortable it is. Try to replace telling yourself “I should not be reacting so strongly over something so small” to “Something about this situation really upset me and maybe I won’t figure out why until I give myself some time to step back and process it.” Say affirmations to yourself such as “I am allowed to feel angry” and “This emotion may seem unbearable now but it will eventually pass” as you allow yourself to feel what you feel.
This is when you take the time to process why you feel what you feel. Maybe you got angry about your coworker for forgetting that she agreed to take a shift for you because you had something important coming up. You could feel hurt because you might feel unimportant to her or perhaps you were incredibly anxious because you did not want to miss the important event. Maybe you feel both at the same time because oftentimes, anger covers up emotions associated with hurt. Try to think about why you felt how you did with information from the past as opposed to judging yourself or thinking something like, “of course she didn’t remember she said she would take my shift – I’m easily forgettable around here.” It’s important to assume positive intentions until proven otherwise – perhaps she didn’t write it down or change it in an online system. Either way, the most important thing to remember is that the feelings that arose from the situation are still valid. It’s important to not be too analytical here as oftentimes overintellectualizing our feelings about hurtful situations is oftentimes an automatic response to avoiding actually feeling those emotions.
Validation allows us to feel seen and heard.
It promotes growth of self-esteem and emotional regulation.
Knowing our inherent worth as a person begins in childhood when our experiences, feelings, thoughts, and desires are viewed as valid. Chronic invalidation negatively affects us and can lead to emotional problems in the future. That is why it is incredibly important to learn how to self-validate in painful situations as well as validate others. We deserve the compassion we give others. One way to give ourselves this compassion is to acknowledge how we feel without judging it. As uncomfortable and even painful feeling negative emotions can be – it allows us to better regulate our emotions in the long run. If you would like to learn more skills for emotional regulation or communication, feel free to schedule an appointment via the link below.
Kayte believes that people are experts of themselves and greatly honors the privilege of walking alongside others on their healing journeys.