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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love


From the Archive: February 2019

Yet another word we use without really understanding what it means. We know that invalidating is bad, but don’t realize how often we do it, even when we’re trying to be supportive.

First and foremost, “validation” does NOT mean “agreeing with.” This mistake poses a serious barrier, as people struggle – “I can’t validate that, it’s wrong!” If someone tells us they feel like a complete failure, we rush in with examples of their accomplishments – thus telling them that they’re even a failure at having the “right” feelings. If someone accuses us of harming them, we defensively insist that we didn’t, and so cause more pain by denying the pain they are expressing.

It’s the pain you have to listen to. To validate, first you need to look past the words, past the content, and hear the emotions. That’s what needs validation.

Some ground rules:

  • Emotions are neither right nor wrong, they simply are.

  • “Should” does not apply to feelings.

  • Everyone gets to have their own emotions.

  • Another person’s feelings do not have to match yours.

  • Another person’s different emotional reaction doesn’t negate yours.

Now take a guess at the feeling being expressed, and simply acknowledge it:

“I can’t do anything right!”

“It sounds like you’re really frustrated.”

“You picked me when I didn’t know the answer just to make me look stupid!”

“I can see you were embarrassed, and now you are mad at me.”

“It’s stupid Herbert’s fault we lost the game! I hate him!”

“You care a lot about this sport, and are disappointed you lost the game.”

There’s a place later in the conversation to look at conflicting facts, encourage a person to consider other viewpoints, or work on developing a sense of proportion. But you’ll never get to that part of the conversation if you start by telling them, indirectly but clearly, that you aren’t listening to them and their feelings are wrong or don’t matter.

Julie Love, Director

Validation, communication through empathy An excellent TED talk by Naomi Feil about validation

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