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How to Validate Someone

Validation is a giftThe need for validation, whether conscious or not, is universal. We all want to feel acceptable, worthy, and not-kooky in other people’s eyes.

But what is validation, anyway?

Most of us are a little fuzzy on this concept, and for good reason: Validation can be hard to come by in everyday life.

Let’s talk first about what validation feels like on the receiving end, and then we’ll look at how to do it.

Validation is a Gift

When someone validates us, we feel like we’re no longer alone. We’re not crazy to feel the way we feel. Someone understands us. Our words, actions and/or feelings make sense to another person.

They’re not judging us for how we feel, so we can relax in their presence, and let down our defenses. They’re truly with us.

Here’s a simple example:

Ed: I don’t know why I can’t get over Pogo’s death.

Teresa: You loved that dog, Ed. His death was a real loss for you.

Ed: I still miss him every day.

Teresa: Yes. He used to go everywhere with you, and now he’s gone.

In this example, Teresa is validating Ed’s feelings by making sense of them for him. Even if Teresa has never had any pets herself, and can’t imagine being emotionally attached to an animal, she knows that Ed loved Pogo, and is grieving his loss. There’s no judgment in her voice or her heart, just a desire to let Ed know that he’s not crazy, wrong or silly to miss his dog.

By validating Ed’s grief, Teresa makes it okay for him to feel the way he feels. This is what validation means. It truly is okay for people to feel the way they feel. No one ever got hurt by someone else having a feeling (see my post, How to Deal with Anger if you don’t believe me).

So when you validate someone, you make it okay for them to have the feelings they already have, and the relief they experience can be enormous. It’s a compassionate thing to do, and very bonding for both of you as well.

Validate the Small Stuff

Validating grief over a loss is relatively easy, since most adults have some personal experience with grief and can easily understand the pain. Other times, validation is more challenging. Here is an example of good validation:

Teresa (looking anxious): I can’t play tennis with you today. I just found out my mother’s coming to town next week.

Ed: You need to prepare for her visit?

Teresa: She’s a neat freak! Every time she sets foot in my house, no matter how much I’ve cleaned, she thinks the house is dirty. She’s so demanding.

Ed: So you’re worried she’s going to show up and think your house isn’t clean enough. That’s a lot of pressure. No wonder you don’t feel like playing tennis.

Both of Ed’s responses indicate that he’s trying to understand Teresa’s position. He begins by doing the work of putting two and two together: Teresa wants to cancel tennis today, and her mother’s coming to town next week. He guesses correctly that Teresa feels she needs time to prepare.

Ed doesn’t judge whether Teresa actually does need that much time. The fact that she feels she does is what needs validating.

Ed’s second response (“So you’re worried… ) indicates that he hears and understands Teresa’s predicament. He also reads the emotional tone underlying what she says, and spells it out by guessing, “That’s a lot of pressure.”

Ed then validates the emotion by saying “No wonder you don’t feel like playing tennis.” Those two little words, “no wonder,” are very validating when preceded by an accurate assessment of the person’s experience.

Now, Ed may not think it’s reasonable for Teresa to cancel today, and he may not believe that she should – or will – spend an entire week cleaning her house for her mother’s arrival. But he knows that Teresa feels too stressed right now to play tennis, and that’s the reality of the moment.

Ed chooses to let her know he understands Teresa even if he himself wouldn’t feel the same way. He doesn’t need to agree, just to understand how the circumstances are affecting Teresa.

Ironically, given this dollop of validation from Ed, Teresa may start to feel better! She may even reverse her decision not to play tennis with him today, saying something like, “Maybe I’m overreacting. I can afford a few hours to play tennis with my boo.”

Focus on Feelings, Not Facts

If you felt resistance to validating Teresa in the above example, you’re not alone. Chances are if you feel that way toward Teresa, you’re quite a stern judge of your own emotions, and you believe that you’re not allowed to have a particular feeling unless it’s justified by the facts.

Let’s look at another way this conversation is likely to go in the real world:

Teresa (looking anxious): I can’t play tennis with you today. I just found out my mother’s coming to town next week.

Ed: How come you can’t play today if she’s coming next week?

Teresa: She’s a neat freak! Every time she sets foot in my house, no matter how much I’ve cleaned, she thinks the house is dirty. She’s so demanding.

Ed: So what, are you going to spend an entire week cleaning the house for her? Make her stay in a hotel.

In this scenario, Ed focuses on the facts – first the timeline (today’s game vs. next week’s visit), then the ridiculousness of spending so much energy cleaning for a finicky house guest, even if it is Teresa’s mother.

He doesn’t appear to notice Teresa’s troubled feelings, and he goes into problem-solving mode (“Make her stay in a hotel”) instead of simply being with her in her distress.

Consequently, Teresa feels even worse about the situation after talking to him about it.

Be Someone Others Want to Talk To

To validate someone is to voluntarily walk in their shoes for a moment. They may see things very differently than you, and they may overreact or underreact according to your personal standards of behavior.

The point is to understand their experience, and to let them know it makes sense to you, given the way they see the situation. In other words, judgment is the enemy of validation.

The reward of validating others is that you will be seen as friendly, caring and likable. You’ll also develop more compassion for your own idiosyncrasies if need be. After all, there’s nothing right or wrong about your feelings. See my Constructive Wallowing posts for more on this liberating concept.

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado.
She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations.
The author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” and the “Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children,” Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships.
Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called “Constructive Wallowing.”

3 Responses to "How to Validate Someone"

  • Angela Anderson
    August 3, 2016 - 3:12 pm Reply

    Well, I’ve only read a little so far but you’re work and thoughts displays insight and intelligence

  • Tina Gilbertson
    August 3, 2016 - 5:31 pm Reply

    Thank you for that lovely feedback, Angela. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  • Teresa Manning
    November 12, 2017 - 6:56 pm Reply

    YOu really have great suggestions. Thank you for sharing. I hope I can use some.

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