To begin with I will give you two definitions of validation…
To acknowledge and accept a person’s feelings, thoughts, behaviours and internal experience as valid and understandable.
To confirm or strengthen what is relevant, true, or effective about a response, be it a thought, emotion, physical sensation, or action. Validation requires empathy (the accurate understanding of the person’s experience) but validation also includes the communication that the person’s response makes sense. (Linehan) From Karyn Hall’s NEABPD call in 2011
Some of the things validation helps with are communication, building trust, it can help lessen the distress for someone and shows you just get it.
Invalidation causes the person to get more upset and this happens to many people who self harm and attend A&E or by other Health Care Professionals not taking people seriously or family and friends.
When I’m educating people about validation this is the story I tell….
One day my daughter had gone off on a bike ride with my wife and I was outside gardening. Suddenly I heard the car pull in and I thought hmm what’s happened here? My daughter appeared on the path her chin wobbling looking really upset.
I asked her ‘what’s wrong what’s happened? She replied that her chain had broken on her bike and she didn’t get to go on the bike ride ..
I said ‘oh no you really wanted to go on that bike ride you must be really upset’ (validation)
She started crying and I asked her what she wanted to do she replied her voice faltering that she just didn’t know. I saw that there was rhubarb growing in the garden and she loved baking. I said ‘how about you make a rhubarb crumble I can cut you some?’ She said ok, and after a few tears off she went into the house and baked a delicious rhubarb crumble.
Now take two…. rewind …. If she had come down the path and I’d said ‘oh you can go on a bike ride another day, listen big girls don’t cry’ (invalidation) I know she would have become really upset more than likely run down the path into the house slamming doors and more importantly I wouldn’t have got a rhubarb crumble!!
But seriously this is what happens in life particularly with those who seek help for self harm. They are often ignored, treated with disdain and those overwhelming emotions that often bring people to self harm are completely invalidated. A few validating statements such as ‘it looks like you’re having a really tough time right now’ or ‘you must be really hurting right now’ would help. It’s not about necessarily agreeing with the self harm its about letting the person know you get the real emotional pain they are in.
My thoughts are also that people could learn a thing or two from the people on Twitter with mental health difficulties. Watch how they validate each other on a daily basis, show empathy and really help each other. We know how it feels and we know how to help, peer support at its best.
I’m wondering how people use validation in their work or day to day life? I use it at work with people my colleagues and my family. It truly helps with relationships.