The Problem with Validation
I am aware that the title of this blog might stir up strong feelings in some people. I imagine two camps. One says, “heck yes, validation is a problem”, while the other says, “Everyone deserves to be validated.” I agree.
My problem is not with the meaning or the act of validation. My concern is about how this concept is understood outside of the therapy room. Through the thousands of conversations I have had over the years, it seems to me that many commonly understand validation as “agreement with what someone says” or something one is entitled to. However, neither is true.
Validation is the recognition and understanding of another person’s experience.
Reading this definition, I can see why people would think it somehow means one is agreeing with or is required to provide validation. But, read that definition again. Does something else stand out for you this time?
Validation is an important component of healthy communication. By validating a person’s experience you are saying “I see you and I hear you”, which is different than agreement with what is said. Instead, you are saying the thoughts and feelings of the other person are meaningful even if they are different from your own. In doing so, you are telling the other person they have value.
Can you imagine someone telling you that something didn’t happen to you? That you were overreacting? That you were blowing something out of proportion? I am certain you can. Now, can you imagine someone telling you your pain isn’t real? That your fears are really just paranoia? Or that you should already be over that horrific incident that happened a long time ago? I feel your pain.
Without validation, we miss out on so many opportunities for connection and understanding.
We are so quick to correct another person’s accounting of an event and tell them their perspective or recollection is wrong, that we miss the chance to find out why the other person feels and thinks the way they do.
The why is where the connection is.
However, providing validation does not mean that you accept the thoughts and ideas of others as your own or that you agree with their recollection of events. Nor does it mean that you are required to do so. I see too often in relationships where one or both partners are asking for validation and expecting it to be given. I also see that when validation is given, the partner interprets that as agreement rather than their partner’s attempt to connect and understand. When validation is misinterpreted, it leads to even greater conflict and disconnection.
Validation Starts with Me
Many mental health professionals agree that meeting the need to be validated should begin from within. Self-validation is the ability to recognize and understand your internal experience. Even if others do not meet that need, the ability to acknowledge your own experience is essential.
Validation-seeking can become addictive when we solely look to others and put others’ opinions above our own. Consider social media. It is there where we can get instant gratification or instant disappointment. Those likes and emoticons meet a need to be validated. Again, this is not a bad thing, but if one’s self-esteem and self-worth are dependent on this need being met solely by others, it is in fact problematic.
To find a healthy balance of external and internal validation, first, ask yourself what it is that you are seeking validation for. Then practice providing this for yourself through journaling, positive self-talk, or an inventory of your successes. When you receive external validation, accept it, and move on. Do not continue to ask for additional praise or confirmation for the same issue. When you do not receive the validation you hope for, practice accepting and integrating critical feedback and use self-regulation coping strategies. Psychotherapy is a great place to learn how to balance the need for external validation and practice self-validation.
If you’d like to discuss this topic or any other matter in more detail, schedule an appointment with Dr. Jennifer Fast here.