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Emotional Validation – What and Why?

Human beings have a strong need to form connections with others – it increases not just the chances of survival but also helps to thrive within one’s social experiences. The wish to be heard, understood, or accepted within a space, can all be fulfilled through validation. Validation, in essence, refers to consideration and acceptance of others’  experiences, emotions, and feelings, possibly irrespective or in spite of our own accordance.

This fulfillment can be particularly important during infancy or childhood, where validation may be used to foster a sense of trust within the child-caregiver relationship. 

Why a person should develop validation as a skill?

Remember when you spoke about an incident to your friend and you felt like your feelings were disregarded? It would’ve led to you being insecure of your thoughts and feelings to the point where sharing about that incident seemed unimportant. But it was. If something has the power to affect you, it sure has the potential to be important. Was your friend aware that she is disregarding your feelings? Probably not. Would you have felt better if acceptance came your way? We all can say a big YES!

By developing validation as a skill, we empower thoughts and feelings which are communicated to us. We provide authority to the person and their feelings. Feeling validated means feeling heard, important and safe and isn’t sometimes that just what we want.

Validation as a skill can be developed by,

  • opening up and showing curiosity towards the other person’s story,
  • actively listening and understanding what the other person is trying to communicate, and
  • finally supporting to what they express

By simply practicing the three steps above we can provide validation.

If you’ve a memory of a time when you felt as if your feelings were disregarded when you tried to communicate about something that was bothering you – this feeling may well have been related to a sense of invalidation.

In our everyday life we come across situations where we unwittingly invalidate emotions. For instance, when a friend speaks about a crush or what happened at their home last night, and our reaction to such situations may be based on several factors like,

  • our personal experience in those situation,
  • our own beliefs, and
  • what we think is right or wrong etc.

Both validation and invalidation have the power to influence our emotions, thoughts and feelings. The degree of influence is individualistic. The reaction based on the above factors causes that influence. Simply said, what may be right for us might not be right for others.

We know of three types of validation as they are commonly seen – behavioral, cognitive and emotional.

Behavioral validation communicates that behaviors shown by a person, helpful or unhelpful are understandable, while Cognitive Validation happens when beliefs, assumptions, and expectations expressed by someone is understood and accepted. Mental Health Professionals use cognitive validation and try to understand their clients’ patterns in the course of time.

Now to understand emotional validation, we first need to see what it is that we are validating. An ‘emotion’ can be understood as what we feel what we think about a particular experience or situation, and acknowledging an emotion can be considered as the key in understanding what a person knows, feels and in turn responds in a situation.

Emotional validation can involve:

  • Being non-judgemental,
  • Being respectful of others emotions,
  • showing empathy i.e., Imagining being in other person’s shoes,
  • Acceptance of others feelings,
  • Actively listening the other person, and
  • Isolating your own personal emotions and identifying others emotions.

Emotional expression also caters to emotional validation. For instance, providing a reaction, like tearing up when hearing a sad story, smiling or showing joy when something cheerful comes up.

Sometimes when emotions are communicated, they might be perceived as ‘irrational’ where they are treated as ‘illogical’, ‘unreasonable’, and sometimes provided with a more rational i.e., logical alternative. All of these perceptions may lead to a response of emotional invalidation. And as subtle as it can be, it can have not so subtle repercussions.

Different ways in what emotional invalidation can look like:

  • Neglect: when emotions and feelings expressed are uncared for or not paid attention to,
  • Belittling: when emotions and feelings are concluded as petty and unimportant,
  • Minimizing: when emotions and feelings are underestimated and underrated,
  • Blaming others for feeling what they feel and wanting what they want,
  • Prioritizing your own beliefs and disregarding what other believes,
  • Imposing your own thoughts and feelings onto someone else, and
  • Making fun or bullying someone based on what they express.

Everyday in our lives we see examples of emotional validation unaware of the impact it holds on us as individuals. From a simple smile by someone when we speak something joyful to a tight hug when we feel vulnerable, we feel validated at all such times. When feelings are emotionally invalidated it can lead to feelings of self-doubt and apprehension, which in the long run can also make a person distrustful and scared when it comes to their expression of emotions. On the other hand, when those feelings are emotionally validated, it makes that person feel heard, understood, and cared for.

Delivering validation is just as important as getting validation. By developing validation as a skill we provide a sense of understanding to someone who might be in need of simply that and help nurture sense of positivity and meaning.

This article was written by a trainee psychologist. But we were humans long before we began our training, and so are always looking to learn better! If you found that any of the above is inaccurate, irrelevant or unhelpful, or would like to suggest ways to make this article more helpful in any way, please let us know in the comments below.


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