One of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and others is validation. Validation is the acknowledging of a person’s feelings, beliefs, or behaviors as valid, real, and legitimate. We all know what it feels like to be validated – and, to be invalidated, but most people can’t explain concretely what validation sounds like or how to do it.
The most basic levels of validations are just listening – really listening, and functional validation. Functional validation happens when we are paying attention to the other person and respond to their need in the moment, such as offering tissue or a hug to a person who is crying. We can also accurately reflect back what the other person has said as a form of acknowledgement. This could sound like, “I can hear that you are struggling right now.” Third, we can articulate thoughts or feelings that the person has not verbalized, such as, “I imagine you must feel so distraught.”
We can validate a behavior in terms of its cause – behaviors can be cause by things like past learning, faulty information (e.g., had the wrong time for a class or group meeting), or even biological issues (e.g., depression). There is also validating by identifying the reaction as reasonable in the moment. This is the idea that anyone in the same situation would feel/think/act that way. This is saying to yourself or someone else, “it makes total sense that you feel that way – anyone in your shoes would feel the same.” Last, we can validate by being radically genuine in the moment. Radical genuineness can include expressing respect, faith, or even showing our own vulnerability as a means of engaging in mutuality and trust with the other person. You will notice that from time to time in these emails, I try to be genuine and vulnerable as a means of engaging more deeply and building trust with all of you.
Whichever way you choose, the crux of validation is that you must find a way to communicate to the other person that their thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors make sense. When delivered genuinely, validation will transform your relationships, the way people respond to you, and the way you engage with and make sense of your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.