Validate the emotions of others

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Robert Maurer

Validate the emotions of others

Emotional validation is an exercise that makes others feel good, but despite its low cost and the benefits it offers, we don't always do it. In many cases, because we are not aware of it.

Last update: July 21, 2022

"You're exaggerating, it's not that serious", "How do you react like this nonsense?", "Don't cry anymore, you have to be strong" are some phrases that we will stop saying after understanding because it is important to validate the emotions of others.

It is a valuable tool for caring and strengthening social relationships. Such is the value of this strategy that Dr. Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), calls it "the aspirin of DBT."

It refers to the fact that it represents one of the fundamental tools for building a good client-therapist bond in any psychotherapeutic process. But also in everyday life knowing how to validate the emotions of those around us is a valuable strategy.

What is emotional validation?

Emotional validation is about communicating to another person that we are listening to them. It is accepting the emotional experience that someone feels at a given moment and communicating it clearly through our words or actions. It means making his reactions and his point of view valid.

Make the other person understand that we accept the emotions they feel and manifest, regardless of whether we share them or not.

In short, validating means expressing to another person that their emotions make sense, which are logically relevant, significant or coherent.

"Validation is the 'yes' answer to the question can it be true?".

-Marsha Linehan-

Emotional validation is a powerful tool that strengthens relationships.

We can do the same with ourselves. In this case, we would talk about emotional self-validation. Accepting the validity of our emotions helps us manage them more adaptively. Therefore, we reaffirm that what we feel is important, pleasant or unpleasant.

In reverse, emotional invalidation towards oneself or others means minimizing or judging emotions. Surprisingly, disabling responses may be well-intentioned, but they have dysfunctional consequences.

By this we mean that it is common to invalidate the emotions of someone we love without even realizing it. On the contrary, our intent is to offer support.

Let's take an example to better understand this point: let's imagine that our five-year-old daughter forgets her favorite toy car on a bus. She notices it, bursts into tears and is distressed.

We try to help her and tell her: “Nothing happened, no need to cry, I can buy you another toy”. By doing so, we invalidate the sadness of the children who will wonder “But how did nothing happen? Is it wrong to cry? I am sad because I have lost my toy ”.

How to validate the emotions of others

Validating other emotions can be a more complex task than we think. Luckily, dialectical behavioral therapy proposes six levels of validation.

1. Pay attention

The most basic level of emotional validation refers listening and careful observation of the speaker. It is not enough to look at the person, it is necessary to take an interest in what he has to say, to support his gaze, to let him know that we are listening to him.

Putting yourself in her shoes and holding her hand are useful strategies, because they convey the idea that we care about her feelings.

2. Reflect

It's important reflect carefully on the real understanding of what has been heard. It is a question of "giving back" to the person what he has told us through repetition or paraphrasing, like a mirror.

In this case, one must be careful not to interpret or add personal ideas or hypotheses, but to correctly extract the central idea expressed by the interlocutor.

3. Name the unspoken to validate the emotions of others

The third level of validation consists of in articulating what has not been explicitly verbalized by the other person, but which we note in his speech, making sure it is correct.

For example, if someone tells us “I have studied a lot, but I can't pass the exam. It is useless to study ”, we could reply“ I understand that this situation frustrates you, since you feel that the effort was not worth it, is it? ”

4. Understand the other person's reaction

To validate the emotions of others, it is essential to understand the causes of their reaction. Each emotion starts from a context, a situation, a story.

This level of validation consists in understanding that the other person has the right to react in a given way. For example: "I understand that you distrust people, considering that your ex has cheated on you."

Validating the emotions of others means empathizing with the other person and taking into account their history and experiences.

5. Validate the emotions of others by recognizing them

Recognizing emotional validation means understanding why the other person's behavior makes sense in the current circumstances. It is noting and communicating that feelings are valid responses because they adapt to the current context.

If our child is afraid of thunderstorms, we could validate his fear by saying the following: "I understand that you may be afraid right now, because it rains a lot and you don't like it."

6. Recognize the uniqueness of others

Demonstrating equality is one of the great emotional validation strategies. It's about getting on a par with others and accept that all emotional responses and different perspectives are valid.

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