Last Updated: June 2022
Part of human nature is to be understood, feel wanted and needed. Learning to validate our feelings and those of others builds emotional bridges. Establishing these basic connections lays the foundation for emotional safety. It is this safety that allows us to go out into the world and accomplish our daily tasks.
Validation occurs when we confirm, mostly through words, that other people can have their own emotional experiences. A simple statement like, “It must be difficult and painful to have something like that occur,” can be validating. Validation is not agreeing with their emotional experience, it is reassuring them that it is okay for them to feel the way they do.
If you order a product and someone calls to confirm that you received it, you might say, “Yes, I got the package.” You are only confirming that you received the package. You are not confirming that the contents in the package are in good shape. You are not confirming that the contents are what you ordered. You are only confirming that you have the package.
Likewise, validation is confirming that the other person has specific feelings. We are not confirming that the feelings are right, or correct, or even okay. We are also not confirming that we are wrong.
Simply stated, “We are confirming that they have just received an emotional package.” The challenge is to allow them open the emotional package the way they want to open it.
Statements of Validation
Try to validate the feelings the person has shared.
Since we don’t know for sure what the person is feeling, use words that are gentle and open to possibilities.
- “It must be very difficult to be in this situation.”
- “I can’t even begin to imagine what you are going through.”
- “It seems like things were going well and then this happened.”
- “I’m not sure, but it appears you are saying that this makes you very angry.”
- “Do you feel like in a way you were blindsided?”
- “It appears to me that you felt very disrespected in this situation.”
- “It must be difficult to have so much sadness around this issue.”
- “I’m sensing that this brought up real feelings of betrayal.”
- “Tell me if I have it correct. What I heard you say was my statement was very hurtful towards you and it is not the first time you have felt this way.”
- “Let me make sure I’ve got this straight. You feel like you don’t matter, your feelings don’t matter, and you have built up a lot of resentment. Is that it?”
When we attempt to validate, we want to use a lot of hedge words or possibilities so we are exploring with the person what they are experiencing. After a statement of validation is shared, stop and listen to what the person says next and then try to help justify those feelings. Continue this process until the person feels understood.
People feel understood without ever using the word “understood” because we are confirming their feelings and emotions.
Saying to someone, “I understand,” is typically not helpful and tends to minimize their feelings. How can we possibly understand what someone else is going through even if we have had a similar experience? We really don’t know what it is like for them and we need to learn what they have experienced.
Generally, when people feel understood they are more open to receiving help and locating a place of calm within their soul. Once this is achieved, they gain the emotional and spiritual strength they need to deal with the challenge.
Barriers and Fears of Validating
While we may recognize the importance of validation, it is not easy to do. There are often barriers that impact our willingness or ability to follow through with this healing step. This is a list of some fears or barriers others have noted in their attempts to validate:
- If I validate, I won’t be heard (or my pain won’t be understood).
- Validation won’t fix or solve the problem.
- I don’t know how to validate the right way.
- I forget to validate. My reactions to others’ emotions come on so quickly.
- My habit is to teach rather than validate. If I don’t teach, I’m afraid they won’t learn.
- If I validate, it will only enable the destructive behaviors.
- If I validate, they will think I’m agreeing with them.
- If I validate, they will get stuck in complaining about their problem.
- If I validate others, their emotions will escalate and get out of control.
- When I feel hopeless it’s challenging to validate because it feels like it doesn’t matter anyway.
- When I’m in a great deal of pain it’s a challenge to validate because my own emotions are charged.
- If I validate someone who is hurting me, they will continue to hurt me.
It is important to remember the purpose of validating. Validation nurtures emotional safety, honesty and expression of underlying emotions. Bringing about feelings of being understood, establishes a basis for emotional safety. Simply put, when people feel emotionally safe, they share more. When they share more, we learn more and are more likely to help them in a supportive, non-threatening way that gets at the root of the problem.
© Rod W. Jeppsen