Updated: Oct 16, 2021
You’re feeling upset about something and you turn to a friend for emotional support. Your friend is quick to offer you advice and you may try it, but you don’t feel comforted.
There is a reason for you not feeling comforted - people need emotional validation to feel understood. Validation can feel more comforting than problem solving because the feeling of being understood gives you a sense of belonging.
Validate before you create solutions.
What is Emotional Validation?
Validation is a way to communicate to another person that you see, hear, and empathize with their emotions. It communicates acceptance of someone as they are, and this acceptance allows someone to feel a sense of togetherness and connection with another person. Validation does not mean agreeing or approving of someone’s beliefs or emotions. It just simply means that I acknowledge your feelings, I care about you, and I understand you.
Validation communicates that your feelings make sense to me and you make sense to me.
Why is Validation Important?
Validation can help strengthen relationships. Communicating acceptance of someone through validation allows people to feel that they are important to you.
Validation can also lead to better emotional regulation. There aren’t good, bad, or wrong emotions. Emotions can act as messengers carrying important information to us, helping us understand ourselves better. Certain emotions can feel unpleasant and it may feel tempting to deny these emotions. Being emotionally validated allows someone to feel heard and understood, which lessens the intensity of strong and often denied emotions. This then leads to better emotional regulation, allowing someone to understand the message of their emotions without feeling paralyzed, overwhelmed, or in total distress by their intensity. This then helps someone learn to trust themselves better because they are trusting the messages that their emotions are trying to tell them.
Whereas emotional invalidation does the opposite, by lowering someone’s self-esteem and labelling them as “too much”, “crazy”, or “over-dramatic” because their thoughts and feelings aren’t accepted.
Emotionally invalidating statements are:
“Don’t worry about it”
“It’s not a big deal. I’ve had it worse”
The intent behind these words may be to try to make someone feel better, but they simply invalidate someone’s experience as though it is not important enough to be acknowledged.
What’s the Problem with Problem Solving?
It can feel frustrating and hard to see someone you care about struggling with a situation. You may believe that you have the right answer, and you can help them fix it. It can also feel aggravating to see someone not take your advice and continually struggle with the same situation.
Problem solving comes with the intent of easing someone’s pain, but the impact of it can leave someone feeling as though they aren’t understood and their feelings aren’t acceptable. Psychologist Haim Ginott says, “Understanding must precede advice.” It’s only when[someone] feels fully understood that they will be receptive to suggestions.
Rushing to problem solving can leave someone not feeling heard, and we all carry a need to feel seen, heard, understood, and belong. People are also far more capable of solving their own problems because they are the experts on their own lives.
1. Be Present: Listen to someone in a non-judgemental way. Cast your own agenda or desire to “fix” aside for a moment and truly listen to hear what it is that someone is needing. Perhaps someone may be looking for advice, but you need to first listen to figure out if this is what they want. Avoid giving unsolicited advice.
2. Try to accurately reflect what it is that this person might be feeling, thinking, or believing. This communicates to them that they are understood.
For example: “That must be hard.” “You’re feeling upset.”
3. Check in with the person: check in to see if you understand them correctly. Be prepared to be wrong and allow them to correct you.
4. Identify the reasons why this person might be feeling this way based on what you know about them.
For example: “I can understand how you would be feeling this way because _____ happened to you before”
5. Normalize: Identify that this situation makes sense to you and that you would be having a similar response if you were in a similar situation.
For example: “I would be feeling that way too if I were you”
6. Radical genuineness: Be authentic in your desire to truly understand someone and accept their feelings. If this step is hard, it could be because certain emotions are more uncomfortable for you. This could be due to the result of constantly being emotionally invalidated yourself.
How Does it Feel to be Emotionally Validated?
Emotional validation provides someone with a sense of belonging in the world. Being emotionally validated by someone allows you to feel accepted, loved, important, and worthy as you are.
It tells you the following:
“I’m not crazy for feeling this way”
“There isn’t anything wrong with me”
“I’m not alone or invisible”
“I am seen, heard, and understood”