Written by Amy Frandsen, CSW
Feelings are not right or wrong–they just are, and everyone has them. Instead of hiding feelings, they can be felt and expressed and used as a way to connect with others.
When feelings are shared, they need a safe place of acceptance, validation, and empathy.
Validation is communicating that the other person is worthwhile and valued, regardless of anything he/she thinks, feels, or has done. When you validate, communicate that you want to understand and are interested. Get curious and ask questions–your purpose is to seek to really understand. You aren’t there to change them or to defend yourself.
When you validate, you accept that others’ feelings exist, show compassion to the person, and stand beside them in their feelings. It is true empathy and love. You want to be there, with them, in their feelings–emotionally available and vulnerable. You are open and genuine in your desire to see, hear, witness, understand, and be with them. When you are validating others, it does not mean that you necessarily agree with them and their feelings. But you are able to be with them, what they are feeling at the time, and feel those emotions with them. It says “I’m here with you. Help me to understand.”
What Validation Sounds Like:
“I get it.” “I hear you.” “That would be so difficult.” “Help me understand how that felt.” “I’m not sure what you mean, tell me more.” “It makes sense that you would feel that way.” “When that is the way you perceived it, I can see how you feel that way.” “How did you do that? What happened? How did you feel about it?” “How can I support you?” “I’m not sure what you mean. Can you explain yourself a little more?”
What INvalidation Sounds Like:
“That’s not what happened.” “I know what you are thinking.” “What you mean is ___.” ” What you need to do is ___.” “That’s not how I see it.” “You’re overreacting.” “You don’t understand.” “You shouldn’t be so emotional.” “It’s not as bad as you think.”
Some steps for effective, validating communication:
- Imagine while they are sharing. What would it feel like to be them in that situation?
- Reflect back to them what you have heard. Focus more on feelings than the content of the situation.
- Ask clarification questions and allow yourself to be corrected if you are unsure about what they said or how they felt.
- Do not turn the focus to you by sharing similar stories or feelings, becoming defensive, or start problem solving.
When validation is used, especially in difficult conversations, it will automatically diffuse most of the harsh feelings and allow for true connection between two people. When people feel understood, they are more willing to be open and allowing of your desire to connect with them. To feel “I see you, I understand, and I am right here beside you” is one of the best, most connecting feelings in the world.