VALIDATION: Feeling what we are feeling
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
It’s essentially human to experience a full range of emotions; some pleasant, others not so much. What we do with these emotions makes all the difference. Validation is a foundation for mental health and wellbeing. Here you can read about validation, invalidation, the ‘validation phase’, and steps for validating your own emotions and those of others.
Validation is a foundation for mental health and wellbeing. When we validate ourselves we recognise that our thoughts, our feelings, and urges make sense (Miller, Rathus & Linehan, 2006). They might not be nice. They might not feel appropriate. They may not be comfortable. But they are what they are. It helps to understand our thoughts and feelings, and to validate them, before we jump to judging them or looking for solutions.
Imagine you are telling a friend about a problem. You begin to express your thoughts and feelings, but they immediately start telling you what they think and what you should do.
What is that like for you? Do you feel heard, understood or accepted? Do you feel closer to this person? Does it help you to see your issues more clearly? In most cases the answer to these questions is no.
More often than not, when someone reacts that way, it is experienced as invalidating. In the same way, when we invalidate ourselves, we have not taken the time to acknowledge and understand our own thoughts and feelings. When we immediately jump to judgements or solutions it’s like we are telling ourselves our thoughts and feelings aren’t okay.
THE VALIDATION PHASE
Therapists try not to be invalidating. We ask questions about people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations. We try to understand first. By doing this we help people to see things more clearly, including how their thoughts or feelings make sense given their experiences and their current situation. We work out the lay of the land before plotting a course ahead.
This does three things; 1) it lets a person know that their thoughts and feelings are okay, 2) it helps to reduce layers of reactions and judgements someone might have about their own thoughts and feelings, and 3) it helps to get better insights into what is ACTUALLY going on, and therefore to make a more well informed plan.
Therapists offer a VALIDATION PHASE, and we can do the same for ourselves and those around us. The validation phase is about making space to notice our thoughts, feelings and urges without jumping in to judge them, push them away, change them, or act on them immediately. By validating ourselves we stop adding layers of judgements and reactions to our initial thoughts and feelings. We can get to the core of what is happening.
Here are some steps that can help us to validate ourselves:
Slow down physically
Notice your surroundings (what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell)
Notice your thoughts — and name them
Notice how you are feeling emotionally — and name these emotions
Notice any strong urges — name these
Remember it’s okay to think, feel, and to have urges
Ask yourself “Am I struggling against these experiences, or being open to them?”
Over time, try to develop helpful attitudes, including: non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. (For excellent short videos about these attitudes, follow this link to this ‘Minds Unlimited / Mindfulnessgruppen’ Youtube channel playlist). (Also, for my free short mindfulness course, go here).
If you are experiencing strong feelings, and have strong urges to act in a way that might cause problems, try to slow down, breathe, and make a decision that will help in the long term.
To validate other people, remember the same ideas we use to validate ourselves, and add these things:
Use eye contact to show you are listening (Miller, Rathus & Linehan, 2006)
Don’t invalidate / judge what they say with your facial expressions or movements (scrunching up your face, reacting with fast or frustrated movements)(Miller, Rathus & Linehan, 2006)
Try to sit or stand calmly and listen
Ask questions to understand what they are thinking and feeling
Empathise vocally — Observe how they are feeling, and say “I understand”, or “It makes sense that you feel that way” (Miller, Rathus & Linehan, 2006)
Say you can understand how they think or feel given their past and the situation
Avoid telling them they shouldn’t feel this way, or should feel another way, or should see things differently. Saying ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’ is very invalidating!
After validating, ask if they would like any opinions or suggestions.
Remember, if you try to offer opinions and solutions in the VALIDATION PHASE it probably won’t work, no matter how great your advice or opinions are!! Listen and understand first — solutions can come later.
IN ARGUMENTS……. STOP:
If someone is acting in a destructive way, you do not need to validate this. However, you can validate the thoughts, feelings and urges that led to the actions (Miller, Rathus & Linehan, 2006). Remember here that validation doesn’t mean you agree with what they feel either. Rather, you understand that however they are feeling, that is how they are feeling; it is what they feel, and on some level you can understand why they may feel that way.
While you might be judging the other person, slow down, and listen. Try to understand, and let them know you are trying to understand. You might find that you both calm down and talk more constructively. In arguments the earlier we validate the better.
In my opinion validation is one of the most important tools for mental and emotional health. It is also essential for healthy relationships — a key part of health and happiness. You might wonder how not jumping into judgement and problem solving can change anything? When we take the time to understand ourselves and other people we show respect, and see more clearly what might help.
I have seen people learn to express their thoughts, feelings, needs and wants more accurately. They don't get so caught up judging their human thoughts and feelings, and by not getting caught up they don’t waste a lot of time and energy, and are more flexible in what they chose to do next. This can lead to significant positive change over time. I believe in this very much, so I can talk about it all day. But validation is experiential; it needs practice, so please give it a go. Good luck and please feel free to email me any comments or questions.
Miller, A. L., Rathus, J. H., & Linehan, M. (2006). Dialectical Behaviour Therapy with Suicidal Adolescents. Guilford Press.