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What is Emotional Validation?

What is Emotional Validation?

By: Edwin Rivera, JR, LAPC

Validation is the act of helping someone feel seen and heard. Validation communicates that a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors make sense and are understandable given the current context. Validation communicates, to the speaker, that the listener takes them seriously.Taking validation a step further, a listener will actively accept and communicate acceptance to the speaker. This is also known as taking a nonjudgmental stance.

Three Steps of Emotional Validation

Actively Observing

First, an individual gathers information about what has happened or is happening at the moment. In doing so, the listener is wordlessly watching. Next, the listener follows what the other person is thinking, feeling, and doing. Finally, the listener lets go of prejudices and personal biases from observing the speaker’s actual emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

  • Listeners listen with a “third ear” to hear the unstated emotions, thoughts, values, and beliefs
  • Listeners observe with a “third eye” to guess the speaker’s implicit action(s).

Reflection

Second, listeners accurately reflect the speaker’s feelings, thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors. Maintaining a nonjudgmental stance is critical. Try your best to stick to the facts of what is being said or what is happening. In this step, listeners are communicating they are awake and actively listening. Listeners strive for accurate emotional empathy, understanding of (but not necessarily agreeing with) beliefs, expectations, or assumptions.

Validation does not equal agreement. You can validate a person without having to compromise, surrender your opinion, values, or morals. This can be especially difficult when the individual’s thoughts and feelings are contrary to your own or are difficult to tolerate (e.i. suicidal ideations, feelings of hopelessness, depression, and anxiety).

Direct Validation

Third, the listener surveys for and considers the validity of the speaker’s response and communicates the reaction is clear and understandable. The listener identifies stimuli/stressors in the speaker’s current environment that supports the speaker’s behavior. The speaker’s dysfunction does not blind the listener; instead, the listener attends to the speaker’s situational context. The emphasis here is accurately capturing the speaker’s latent emotional content.

  • Example: “What I hear you saying is that you have two exams and a presentation due tomorrow.”’

 

The listener searches for the kernel of truth in the speaker’s responses. Validating the listener is no different than finding a golden nugget in a pile of sand. Locating the golden nugget is one of the model’s fundamental principles. However, this principle does not debar the listener from attending to the metaphorical pile of sand. Problem-solving strategies balance validation.

Why Validate In the First Place?

Validation is needed to balance out pushing for change. What does this mean?Stop reaching for problem-solving so quickly. Jumping to solve another individual’s problems may come naturally to most. This makes sense, given most people are taught to think critically and use resources to find immediate solutions. Although it may come from genuine caring, jumping to solve another person’s problems can present itself as invalidation and send the message that the person is “broken,” needs to be “fixed,” or can not solve their problems on their own.

  • Example:
    Speaker: “I’m feeling so overwhelmed with school work. I don’t know how I’m going to get everything done!”
    Listener: “Well, if you stopped playing on your video games so much and put down your phone, you’d have time to get everything done.”

 

In this example, the listener can see the root of the speaker’s dysfunction and offers a solution. What they don’t realize is that they missed the emotional content of the speaker. The speaker may already know the root of their issue and is looking for support. By quickly offering a solution, rather than acknowledging the feelings of stress, the speaker may feel invalidated instead. How many of you have offered an explanation of this nature and gotten a response back to the effect of, “You don’t understand!” or “You never listen to me!”? This is not uncommon. If you continue to receive this sort of feedback from others, utilizing more validation in your day-to-day interactions may be helpful.

What does it look like to slow down and capture a speaker’s emotional content?

  • Example:
    Speaker: “I’m feeling so overwhelmed with school work. I don’t know how I’m going to get everything done!”
    Listener: “I’m hearing you say that your schoolwork is piling on you, and you’re not sure how you’re going to accomplish it. That makes sense because I know you’re taking 3 AP classes and the chess club president. You must feel like you’re drowning in your work!”
    Speaker: “Yes! I feel terrible.”

What to Do When Validation is Not Effective

It’s important to remember that validation is not a perfect science, and there may be barriers to your effectiveness. The obstacles you experience can take the form of a stressful day at work, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling as though you don’t know the right thing to say. That’s okay! The most important aspect of the model is mindfulness and effort. If you take the time to ask yourself what the other person may be feeling or attempting to reflect on their perspective, you are on the right track.

Next, try your best to be patient with yourself. Although there are several levels of validation, there is no one exact way to validate someone. Try your best to be receptive to the feedback of the speaker. If they tell you that what you’re saying or doing is not adequate, LISTEN. Adapting your response per what they are saying/asking for may be more effective than you realize. What you think an individual needs and what they need may be different. Try your best not to personalize what they are asking for or see it as a personal shortcoming.

To learn more about emotional bonding and validation in psychology, contact Mind & Motion today.

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