In the two previous validation series blogs, we discussed the definition and importance of validation and by contrast, how destructive invalidation can be. We discussed how validation is not the same thing as agreeing, and although it is minimal on the scale of tolerance, it does wonders to build healthy, supportive relationships. Remember that feelings are different from behavior. All feelings are allowed and welcome, all behavior is not. Validation addresses the feeling. If you disagree with someone’s behavior, you can address that secondly and separately. Now let’s talk about how to do this.

The Recipe for Authentic Emotional Validation

1. Listen to the person.
2. Convey you get what happened to them from their perspective (whether you agree with that perspective or not and even if their perspective is obviously skewed).
3. Convey you accept their feelings or experience (again, this is different from behavior).
Equally important for what to do, is what not to do. Do not judge the person, tell them they are wrong, tell them they have blown things out of proportion, tell them they should not think or feel as they do, try to solve the problem without acknowledging their feeling first (and then only if they have asked for help or advice), or try to convince them that your perspective is the correct perspective.

Here are some validation response examples. Notice that you do not have to agree to validate, you only have to accept that the person is having a feeling, emotion, or internal experience. In fact, you can disagree and still offer support:
Wow, that sounds awful.
I can see why you’d be sad.
It looks like you are frustrated.
Gosh, I don’t even know what to say, but I’m here to listen.
This sounds important to you.
What a tough situation!
This sounds like a hard choice.
That is a lot of stress.

Now let’s put this into some everyday examples that we can all relate to. Here’s a parent and teen situation with opposing view points:
Daughter- I think I would like to be a vegetarian from now on.
Parents- (Surprise, some resistance and disappointment) Oh, wow, well we have always been a meat eating family. How long have you thought about this?
Daughter- For at least the last 6 months, plus some of my friends at school are vegetarian. I saw a documentary on how our food is processed, and I think it is a good thing to do.
Parents- (Worrisome, concerned, tentative) Ok, well can you tell us what your ideas are on protein and meal planning? We still believe in eating a balanced diet and want you to get what you need.
Daughter- Yes, I ‘ve been looking into it a lot. I found all sorts of recipes and protein trackers you can use on-line, and I’m going to use my allowance to get a protein powder just in case. I’m just going to replace some of our meat dishes with tofu and other stuff I’m learning how to do.
Parents- Ok, well this sounds important to you. We will still be serving your brother, sister, and ourselves steak. Are you sure you won’t miss our BBQ nights?
Daughter- Well, maybe, but I want to try this.

Contrast this with invalidating comments from the parents now:
Daughter- I think I would like to be a vegetarian from now on.
Parents- (Surprise, some resistance and disappointment) You are just saying that because it’s a fad right now. It’s a dumb idea and you’ll never get enough protein. We won’t do it at our house.
Daughter- Well, I watched this documentary on how it was hurting animals and I don’t want to eat meat anymore.
Parents- (incredulous, outraged, defensive) You will eat meat just like we do, just like your brother and sister do, just like your grandparents do, and everyone else who isn’t into this stupid fad.
Daughter- But I don’t feel comfortable….
Parents- (resistant, uncompromising) I don’t care, this isn’t about your feelings. We are not changing up our household because one of our kids wants to change. You are only one vote, and there’s four more of us. You can do your own thing when you have your own house.

Another example of a heterosexual couple with opposing viewpoints who use validation:
Wife- We should have Barb and Jeff over more often, they are such a hoot!
Husband- (disagrees) Really? I think Barb is annoying, the things she says.
Wife- Yeah, she can be annoying at times, but those jokes are funny, no?
Husband- (neutral) I guess, not really my thing.
Wife- Well, she’s been a great friend to me, especially this last year, really helpful too.
Husband- (curious) She has?
Wife- Oh yes, I can’t tell you how many times she’s volunteered to do my reports or take the last customer.
Husband- (affirming) Well, she’s not my style, but I get why you like her. I’m glad she’s been there for you. I know this last year has been tough on you.

Now the contrast version where there is invalidation:
Wife- We should have Barb and Jeff over more often, they are such a hoot!
Husband- (disagrees) Really? I think Barb is annoying, the things she says.
Wife- Yeah, she can be annoying at times, but those jokes are funny, no?
Husband- (disagrees, stubborn)I guess….actually no, not at all. We only have them over because you think she’s funny. I could care less.
Wife- Well, she’s been a great friend to me, especially this last year, really helpful too.
Husband- (demanding) She has? Like what?
Wife- Oh yes, I can’t tell you how many times she’s volunteered to do my reports or take the last customer.
Husband (belligerent) You call that help? Gah. Well she’s not my cup of tea, and she shouldn’t be yours either!

Now a same-sex couple who need to both invalidate each others feelings and things escalate quickly.
Wife 1 (angry, incredulous)- I told you to be home on time, this is ridiculous!
Wife 2- I know, I’m sorry….
Wife 1 (escalating)- You can’t just keep saying your sorry. You need to get your crap together and quit being such a lazy, self-centered partner! I can’t take it anymore-
Wife 2 (interrupts)- Give it a rest! I’ve got things to do and it’s not a big deal-
Wife 1 (cuts Wife 2 off)- Not a big deal? What about me? What about my needs? You knew we had to-
Wife 2 (interrupts again)- Yeah, but we will get there in time, just get off my case already. Shut up about it.

Same scenario as above, but with validation of feelings, and a response to poor behavior.
Wife 1 (angry, incredulous)- I told you to be home on time, this is ridiculous!
Wife 2- I know, I’m sorry….
Wife 1 (escalating)- You can’t just keep saying your sorry. You need to get your crap together and quit being such a lazy, self-centered partner! I can’t take it anymore!
Wife 2- Honey, I can see that you are really angry.
Wife 1 (interrupts)- Damn right I am! How many times have we talked about this?
Wife 2 – Ok, ok, I get that you are angry. I see it. We should talk about it, honey, but we agreed not to call each other names. We gotta figure this out without hurting each other. Let’s take a break and talk about this when we are calm.

As you can see, there is a big difference between the two interactions. Validation helps build relationships with support, trust, and emotionally intelligent conversation while invalidation leads to feelings of not being understood, isolation, and being defective. Last, feelings and behavior are different. All feelings are welcome, all behavior is not. Address the feeling first, then move on to the behavior.

Micah Brady, LICSW, LCSW-C, Certified Trauma Counselor, Gottman Educator, eRYT
msbradycounseling@gmail.com
240-408-4048
mbradycounseling.com