The simple answer is, always! Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience as being valid. We all want to know that our feelings are valid. It doesn’t mean they’re right, just that they are real and happening. Validation does not mean agreeing with or supporting feelings or thoughts. You can disagree with, or not even like, the person you are validating. But sometimes validation is more important than your opinion.
When a person feels big emotions, especially if they are of the negative sort, validation can literally be the difference between life and death. We all want to feel acceptance. Humans are gatherers. We want to be with our own people.
When we feel ostracized, things can go South pretty quickly. Being accepted means that we are valued, even if we are different or strange. And sometimes that can mean all the world to someone.
When my son was going through really rough times, he would say some pretty terrible things about himself and the way he saw the world. Some of the best advice I got from his mental health support team was “Validate. Validate. Validate.” It was so difficult to remember, validation builds relationships, validation furthers communication, validation lets him know he is important to me. And most of all, validation does not mean agreeing! I most certainly did not agree with the things he was saying, but I could still validate him and let him know he was being heard and his emotions were real and big and he was not alone.
It might not always feel easy to validate another person, if they’re being purposely obtuse, but it can be a simple process. The trick is, you can use active listening methods to validate someone — start by listening to what they are saying and then repeat it back to them in your own words. If they say “I feel like no one is listening to me” you could respond with “It sounds like you feel like you’re not being heard.” And the best part about validation is, you only have to get it a little right — once they feel like you are hearing them, they generally will take off with more details about how they feel.
Validation can make relationships stronger. When one person feels accepted by the other, they tend to grow closer and want to spend more time together — being accepted is a huge part of our social need. We want to feel that our thoughts and feelings are cared for, and that our chosen crew will be there for us. Most of all, everyone wants to feel important to someone, and validation is one way to show that we think you are just that.
All communication is spotty at best! When one person says “a red truck” are you thinking cherry-red pick-up truck, or burgundy transport truck, or a child’s fire-engine red truck? Or something else entirely? It’s why witness statements about an event can be so vastly differing — we all focus on different parts and details. Validation is a way to enhance communication. It lets the other person know that you’ve heard what they are saying about their own point of view.
By validating my son during his tough time, I was modelling that self-validation was possible — if I could accept him, even at his worst, then maybe he, too, could accept himself. It showed that he could learn to acknowledge his internal experiences as real and understand that it was safe to share with others. Learning self-validation is one step in the journey to self-compassion and self-understanding.
Validation won’t necessarily come easy. Conversation often swings between one person saying I-think and the other saying yeah-but-I-think… We all want to get our own agenda across. Validation in conversation looks more like I-think and I-hear-that-you-think… It’s a new dance step for sure. Give yourself time. Practice it when the stakes aren’t so high, and when it really matters you’ll be able to switch to it like a pro!