capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

Validation: The Glue of Any Relationship

If I could teach a lesson to everyone in the world, if someone gave me the task of teaching all my clients JUST ONE THING to improve their social relationships and happiness with others, it would be the art of validation.

Validation is the foundation of any authentic connection and understanding. I’m sorry you’re going through that. That must be so hard. I can only imagine how scary that feels. I don’t blame you for feeling sad! These are all examples of validation, of the expression of empathy that is critical for the bonding of human compassion.

So many of us are misunderstood, misrepresented, misinterpreted, based on shallow judgment and perception. As a result, we are often fearful and guarded, afraid to let our walls down, afraid to let others inside our worlds. Often, we are shells carrying hallows of pain and trauma, layered by the subsequent rejection from those who were supposed to protect us. Even in relationships, we often remain secretive and shameful, dancing around words and omitting information we deem to be too threatening.

While we may be a chatty and interconnected society, while we may be quick to like a post on Facebook or love a photo on Instagram, I believe most humans, in the real face-to-face world, are relatively devoid of the basic validation that comes from feeling accepted by one another.

Validation is so simple, and yet it so underdone. In fact, the mental health field, as a whole, thrives because we “professionals” are trained in the lost art of human empathy and validation. People come into therapy often thinking they need answers, advice, or solutions. Most of the time, however, they find that they really just need someone to validate their pain, experiences, and feelings. They need someone who can listen, really listen, stripped from the negative judgment and preconceptions, and offer guidance from a place of genuine hope, optimism, and acceptance.

People don’t always need answers. But they do need to know they, as individuals, matter, and that their feelings, no matter how dark, are normal, okay, and valid.

I think we struggle to validate others because we struggle to validate ourselves. When we are uncomfortable and rejecting of our own emotions, we project that same discomfort when others experience them. We don’t want to see the ugliness that comes with the underside of emotional existence- the shame, fear, depression, and compulsion that so often dominates a part of our lives. We are quick to “reframe,” to sugarcoat, to offer vague promises that “it’s going to be okay” and “you shouldn’t be worried about it.”

When we struggle, we often tell ourselves that we are overreacting. We tell ourselves that it’s silly or ridiculous to feel a certain emotion. We tell ourselves that we’re acting irresponsibly or irrationally. We are rejecting and judgmental, raised in a society that demands perfection and continuous work towards betterment. But, if we cannot extend such validation to our internal selves, it is no wonder that we struggle to do this in our interpersonal relationships.

Validation doesn’t mean we cannot feel upset, angry, or disappointed towards someone. It also doesn’t mean we have to necessarily agree or even like what someone says or does. Validation, at it minimum, is an active form of acceptance. In doing this, we recognize and value another’s point of view, whether or not it is the same as our own.

Validation bonds people because it inherently makes us feel more accepted, and therefore, more safe. When we feel safe, we feel encouraged to express and disclose. And of course, when we express and disclose, we build intimacy. Validation is the foundation, and without it, we are constantly in a low-grade turmoil of wondering whether or not we are crazy.

We all exist wanting to belong, wanting to be understood, wanting to be appreciated and recognized. We, as a society, need to focus less on talking and more on listening, less on finding the differences and more on finding the similarities, less on the judgment and more on the acceptance. Most of all, we need to focus less on giving answers and advice and more on giving compassion and empathy. I’m sorry for what you’re going through. It’s okay to be sad/mad/scared is an easy statement to say, but we can never underestimate the magnitude it can have on others.