By Russell Floyd, Psy.D.
Validation is an important, yet often misunderstood concept and practice in any interpersonal relationship. It communicates recognition and acceptance of an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors. People often believe validation is synonymous with agreement or approval, but it actually communicates support, care, and concern for an individual, even if you do not entirely agree with them. When a coworker, friend, or family member shares feelings resulting from a negative interaction, validation of their experience simply allows them to feel heard and understood. That being said, validation can be tricky to effectively put into practice in our everyday lives. To provide some assistance, we’ll take a closer look at 5 different levels of validation.
Level 1. Being Present
When listening to another individual, you can communicate you’re paying attention, or listening with empathy in a number of ways. Whether you put aside the task you’re currently engaged with or directly face the individual speaking to you, it’s important to make it clear your full attention is being given. Often people find it difficult to provide an “appropriate” response to someone else’s emotional pain because they don’t know what to say, but being present can be as simple as listening without judgment.
Level 2. Accurate Reflection and Acknowledgment
This basically means summarizing the gist of what has been shared with you. It may feel silly or redundant to repeat what someone has just said, but if it’s done in a genuine manner it communicates you heard and understood what was shared with you. Your acknowledgment doesn’t mean you agree, and sometimes you won’t, but it’s not essential for providing a validating response.
Level 3. Mindreading
This does not mean mindreading in the literal sense, but focusing on what’s observed, i.e., visible emotion, and imagining how one might feel in the situation presented. The safest way to do this is by phrasing your observations and thoughts as predictions or questions: “I imagine that was pretty difficult to hear. I’m guessing you were hurt by that comment?” This level of validation can also be helpful because some people find it difficult to ascertain their own experiences and/or emotional responses.
Level 4. Validation of Consequent, Behavioral Changes
This means understanding an individual’s reactions and behaviors as a result of earlier/previous experiences. This level is a little more challenging to understand, but can be easily explained with an example. A friend had a panic attack during a final exam during the previous school year and is now anxious and fearful of the upcoming finals for the current semester. A validating response would display understanding of the fear of final exams as a result of having had a panic attack during one in the previous school year.
Level 5. Normalizing and Recognizing as Understandable in the Moment
This level is best expressed in the form of communication that a person’s emotional response is reasonable given the current circumstance, i.e., feeling anxious before a school presentation. A validating response could be, “Of course it makes sense. Everyone gets a little anxious before a presentation.”
While validation is a fairly simple concept, it can be challenging to effectively put into practice. It’s essential to the formation and maintenance of meaningful interpersonal relationships, and it allows for feelings of safety, security, and belonging, which are essential to every human being. It can make a significant different not just in personal relationships, but in professional ones as well. Effectively communicating with others, including coworkers, can create a more enjoyable work experience. If you’d like more information on understanding and providing validation, or are curious to understand the role of validation in psychotherapy, please contact us at (408)-680-4114.
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