Validation

Validation is an important skill for families and friends (carers) to learn to improve your ways of responding to a person living with emotional distress.

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What is validation?

Validation is acknowledging that another’s experience is real to them.

This might include their …

  • thoughts
  • emotions
  • perceptions, and
  • memories.

Putting validation into action is hard. The concept is simple. We all experience the world around us in a unique way. Whether we agree with another person’s experience doesn’t change the fact that it is very real to them, in the moment.

When supporting someone experiencing high emotional distress such as BPD they often experience:

  • intense emotions (that may seem to others to be extreme for the perceived situation)
  • chronic feelings of emptiness
  • fluctuating self-image or sense of self
  • rapidly changing emotions, and
  • impulsivity.

Validation becomes an essential skill to aid communication in a supportive way.

Effective validation

Effective validation:

  • shows another that you value them and are interested in their experience
  • can de-escalate emotionally intense situations. Most people just want to be heard and taken seriously when they are upset – they don’t want to be fixed
  • over time, it helps the person you are supporting to learn to identify and describe their own emotions more effectively, and
  • provides an opportunity for the person you are supporting to improve their own skills.

Invalidation versus validation

There are many levels to validation – like any new skill you don’t need to master all at once. Start small and practice, practice, practice……..

To realise why validation is so important it’s helpful to understand what goes wrong when we DO NOT validate another i.e., INvalidation.

INvalidation

Understanding invalidation and knowing how to recognise it can help you learn to respond in a supportive validating way.

Invalidation is the act of dismissing or rejecting someone’s thoughts, feelings or behaviours. It sends the message to another that: “Your feelings don’t matter. Your feelings are wrong.” For a person living with BPD, invalidation not only feels bad it may also be emotionally damaging. Our feelings are the innermost expression of our individual identities and when another person denies or diminishes our feelings it can be perceived as a personal rejection at the deepest level possible.

I wonder if you can relate to these scenarios:

  • you share a painful event with someone, and they’ve said “Oh’ it’s not that bad. This…happened to me”
  • you have been crying and someone said to you “Don’t cry”? Does that statement take away the pain? Or rather make you feel weak/worthless?
  • you have been worried, and someone said to you “Don’t worry”. Do you feel heard and understood and less worried?

When someone, usually with the best of intentions, tells you to not feel how you’re feeling, it is a form of invalidation. This is true regardless of how sincerely they are trying to help. It can make you feel unimportant or irrational. It can take many forms and happen at any time.

Invalidation doesn’t just have to be verbal, either. It can also involve nonverbal actions such as rolling your eyes, ignoring the person or being distracted while someone is talking to you.

No matter how it happens, emotional invalidation can create confusion and distrust.

Validation

Actively listen to the emotion behind the words. Many people, especially people who struggle with identifying emotions find it difficult to describe to others how they are feeling and fall in generalising, judging, blaming, etc.

Reflect back the emotion that you heard in a curious and non-blaming way. For example:

  • “It sounds to me like you’re ………”
  • “I notice that…….how is this for you......”

Sometimes you may have interpreted correctly and that is great. If you haven’t, accept that this has been a great first step to improving communication. Acknowledge this; e.g., “That’s really helpful for me to understand where you’re coming from.” And if possible, continue the conversation.

It’s important to note that sometimes saying nothing may be more helpful than saying that something is hurtful or invalidating. During times of high emotional distress things are often said that are best left unsaid and may have a negative effect on your relationship.  If the person becomes upset at you not responding in the way they have learnt to expect, acknowledge that your relationship is important and that your trying to do something different.

Summary

  • you cannot heal emotional wounds with logic
  • validation is never about lying – it’s recognising that a person’s emotions and feelings are valid for THEM in THIS moment.
  • validation does not condone or agree with the other’s behaviour – the focus is on their emotions, e.g., if someone throws a vase at me in anger there is an emotion (anger) and there is a behaviour/action (throwing the vase). In this scenario it is important to validate the anger not the action. An example of a response may be “I can see that you are angry AND it’s not OK to throw the vase at me". At this point in time, it may be more helpful to have a ‘time-out’ to allow everyone to de-escalate their emotions.
  • validation does not mean you are 'giving into' the person with BPD. This is a fear that is expressed by people supporting someone with BPD. In fact, it’s the opposite. Think of it as a necessary first step in a change process.
  • validation is not giving advice or offering solutions. When experiencing high emotional distress, it’s impossible to think logically. The phrases: 'should' …’could’ …. ‘why don’t you just’ ……… ‘you need to’…….. are perceived as their thoughts and feelings are wrong. Since they are already in emotionally distressed, miserable, and possibly feeling worthless being told that they are wrong just adds to that misery.

Suggested resource: https://bpdfoundation.org.au/carers-2.php#Validation

Self validation

As important as validation is in relationships self-validation is also vital.

Self-validation is the process of recognising, accepting and affirming your own thoughts, feelings, experiences and identity without seeking external validation or approval from others. It involves acknowledging and validating your own emotions and experiences as valid and legitimate, regardless of whether others agree or understand them.

Here are some key aspects of self-validation:

  • It starts with acknowledging your own emotions, both positive and negative. Instead of dismissing or suppressing your feelings, you accept them as a natural and valid part of your human experience.
  • It is closely related to self-compassion. It involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding, especially during difficult or challenging times. Rather than being self-critical, you offer yourself the same support and understanding that you might offer to a friend.
  • By validating your own emotions, you can better regulate them. Instead of denying or suppressing difficult emotions, you acknowledge and process them in a healthy way, which will help to develop emotional resilience.
I’m doing the best that I can with the skills and resources I have AT THIS MOMENT.