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Spotlight: The importance of validation

Validation helps a person feel cared for and supported, and strengthens relationships
Jennifer Long, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Cheer up. Relax. Don’t get angry. You shouldn’t worry. There’s nothing to cry about. It’s not a big deal. You’re overreacting. It could be worse. Get over it. How do you think I feel? I don’t want to hear about it… 

These are examples of invalidating statements. Invalidation happens when a person’s feelings, thoughts, or behaviours are rejected, dismissed, ignored, or judged. The opposite, validation, means letting someone know that you understand, acknowledge, empathize with, and accept their feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. Validation does not mean you agree with those feelings or behaviours, or that you like them. It means you are listening and trying to understand. Validation and invalidation can happen through our words, our nonverbal communication, and our actions.

Validation helps a person feel cared for and supported, and strengthens relationships. When a person feels validated, emotions and behaviours become less intense, they are more willing to talk and listen, and they are more willing to change. Validation helps children and adolescents develop emotion regulation skills, and build a sense of self and identity.

Invalidation can be upsetting and hurtful. When people feel invalidated, their feelings and behaviours can become more intense, they are less likely to talk or listen, and they are less likely to change. When children and adolescents are invalidated, it can lead to problems with emotion regulation, and cause confusion, self-doubt, and distrust in one’s own emotions and experiences.

In most cases, people don’t try to be invalidating. In fact, people are usually trying to be helpful. Learning how to validate takes practice. Here are some tips:   

  • Pay attention. Listen. Be present.
  • Ask questions. Clarify.
  • Acknowledge and reflect back what was said.
  • Try to name the emotion or reflect the feeling. 
  • Don’t offer advice or solutions unless asked.
  • Don’t make it about you.
  • Stay calm. Don’t get defensive.
  • Be aware of your facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.
  • Try to show understanding and acceptance. Make a validating statement or behaviour.

Lastly, here are some examples of validating statements:

  • Do you want to talk?
  • Tell me more about what happened.
  • I can see that you’re really upset.
  • That sounds frustrating. 
  • Were you worried?
  • How disappointing.
  • That must have been so hard.
  • Sounds like you are having a rough day.
  • It must feel like nothing is going right.
  • I’m here for you. 
  • Is there anything I can do to help?
  • It makes sense that you feel that way.
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