I Hear You: The Power of Validation

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by Nancy Bergeron, Registered Provisional Psychologist

Validation is a way that we communicate acceptance of others. Validation doesn’t mean agreeing or approving. When someone we care about makes a decision that we really don’t think is wise, validation is a way of supporting them and strengthening the relationship while maintaining a different opinion. Validation is a way of communicating that the relationship is important and solid even when we disagree on issues. Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable.

Knowing that we are understood and that our emotions and thoughts are accepted by others is powerful. Validation is like relationship glue. By validating someone we demonstrate that we care and that their feelings matter to us. By “mirroring” someone’s feelings, we show them that we are in tune with them. We feel connected with them and they feel connected with us. When we validate someone, we allow them to safely share their feelings and thoughts. We are reassuring them that it is okay to have the feelings they have. We are demonstrating that we will still accept them after they have shared their feelings. We let them know that we respect their perception of things at that moment. We help them feel heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted.  Painful feelings that are expressed, acknowledged and validated by a trusted listener will diminish.

Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation is emotionally upsetting for anyone, but particularly hurtful for someone who is emotionally sensitive. Most of us would deny that we invalidate the internal experience of others. Yes, this even happens with us professionals with our own relationships. Very few of us would purposefully invalidate someone else. But well-intentioned people may be uncomfortable with intense emotions or believe that they are helping when they are actually invalidating One of our deepest needs as humans is to feel understood and true understanding is not possible without empathy. As psychologist Carl Rogers put it, “When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!”

Most of us truly want to help other people, but often we don’t know how, or we try too hard and we start giving advice. However, it has been found that usually if we just validate someone, they are able to work out their own emotional problems even faster than if we were to give them our advice. This is a sign of high emotional intelligence and wisdom. Though we read about validation and “active listening” we sometimes don’t grasp the importance of it. We learned it from living and perhaps from watching what works and what doesn’t work. If we want to help someone, try some of these phrases or comments, they have amazing power:

  • I hear you… That hurts… That’s not good…
  • That’s no fun… Wow… that’s a lot to deal with…
  • I would feel the same way… (I’d feel sad/hurt/angry/jealous, etc. too)
  • That is sad… That sounds discouraging…I can only imagine how that would feel…
  • That sounds like it would really hurt… That must really hurt…
  • I know just what you mean… I would feel the same way… I can understand how you feel….
  • It sounds like you are really feeling ____.
  • It sounds like _____ is really important to you.
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