One of the most important skills we can learn in therapy is validation. Validation is communicating to someone that what they feel, think, and believe is real, logical, understandable, and important. Validation improves relationships by calming intense situations. People respond positively when they feel understood. Validation helps us feel safe and not defensive.
We can validate others by…
- Listening with empathy.
- Trying to understand the person’s experience without judgement.
- Repeating what you hear in different words and asking if that is correct.
- Avoiding advice giving or talking about your opinions.
- Telling others that what their feeling makes sense.
- Avoiding solving problems for the person.
Validation and approval are different. We are not required to approve of someone else’s behavior when we validate their emotions, thoughts, or experiences. We are simply entering into a state of understanding, without trying to change or manipulate anything. This is not a behavior modification tool, this is a relational skill we use to help us understand each other more deeply, begin to problem solve, feel connected with someone.
Self-invalidation is the process of questioning our feelings or labeling them as right or wrong/good or bad. It often looks like asking ourselves if we ‘should’ feel this way, or if it is ‘wrong’ to feel this way. We also invalidate ourselves by:
- Pushing inconvenient feelings aside in hopes they will go away.
- Giving someone else the caretaking that we desperately crave.
- Working really hard to convince someone else that our feelings matter and are important.
- Looking to others for clues on how we should feel is invalidating.
- “Should-ing” ourselves
When we validate ourselves, we are working to lower our defenses in order to feel our emotions without judgement, self-doubt, or the need for justifications. We simply let our feelings be what they are, for as long as they need. Self-validation helps us let go of exhausting attempts at trying to prove to others that our emotions, experiences, or thoughts are important, real, and make sense. Self-validation occurs when you reassure yourself that what you are feeling or thinking is important, logical, reasonable, and makes sense (or will make more sense when it is explored more deeply in therapy). We also validate ourselves when we say things like:
- “Given my childhood this feeling makes sense.“
- “With my diagnosis, I’m bound to have these feelings from time to time.“
- “Many people in my life stage feel this way.“
- “These circumstances are affecting me a lot.“
Self-validation must proceed any growth in therapy because we must first understand ourselves without judgement in order to give ourselves room to grow.
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”C.G. Jung
In order to accept something, we must understand it, and that takes deep inner work in therapy.
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Reno NV Therapist / California Teletherapy