Everyone wants to feel that they matter. They want to be heard and seen, and they want their feelings to be understood and accepted. Validation helps a person feel cared for and supported. Yet, too often a person can feel that their inner experiences are judged and denied. This can lead to low self-worth or feelings of shame. Validating a loved one and acknowledging that you hear them does not mean you have to agree with what is being relayed; hearing a person and agreeing with them are two different things.
Not feeling validated can have childhood roots. The mother who doles out tough love in knee-jerk fashion—oh, just shut up for goodness sake—may be invalidating the emotions of their child. The mother ends up rejecting her child’s feelings and convinces him that his feelings are wrong and not viable. This can damage a child’s emotional world; he may learn to distrust himself and discount how he feels.
How would a person be able to regulate their emotions if they think their feelings are all wrong? This negative view can tip a person into depressive or anxious states. However, validating one’s emotions and feelings can build a sense of self and identity. Understanding one’s emotions helps a person manage their emotions more effectively.
These behaviors are related. Continually worrying about what others think is similar to seeking validation from others. This may hold you back from living your life, one with purpose and goals as well as values that you believe in. The need for approval and the quest to impress others can push you away from who you are. Seeking to be validated can have the same qualities. It’s best to have a healthy sense of who you are, you will be less inclined to look for approval and validation elsewhere.
While these two things seem similar they are different. Telling a person that they look nice is a pleasant compliment, and paying a compliment is a form of civility and courtesy. While praise can feel validating, it does not address the person’s interior landscape.
You cannot force yourself into a grateful state. Guilting yourself into gratitude is not an honest behavior. Telling a child, for example, that they should stop thinking what they are thinking and be grateful only goes so far—comparing a child with others who live in poverty isn’t a winning strategy. There is a point where forcing gratitude becomes delegitimizing. A person cannot be responsible for feeling grateful.
Borderline personality often develops in a person’s formative years. And an invalidating home environment combined with a highly sensitive predisposition can push along such a personality type. While an average person may find a situation to be inconsequential, a person with BPD may display an outsized reaction. Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, created dialectical behavior therapy for the treatment of borderline personality disorder.
Validation starts with the self. To address this, you must understand your internal experience as well as your actions and behaviors. People often fight how they feel, judging themselves about how they experience situations and events. Sometimes a person prefers ignoring how he feels inside, numbing himself with substances and other sabotaging habits.
It helps to name your emotions. The act of identifying what you are feeling can be confusing, you may therefore need to ask yourself what triggered the feeling in the first place. It’s also important to show yourself some kindness, people are often quick to discount their feelings and engage in self-criticism.
The actions that allow one to be more validating of the people in their life are similar to those that undergird self-validation: Kindness and empathy. If a person is struggling, help them identify how they feel, and what triggered the feeling as well. Show some empathy even if you feel you are the target of their negativity.
Social media is designed to suck you in. It wants you to keep clicking, from one item to the next. You also want your network to like and follow and click on your postings and photos and tweets. The more clicks you receive, the better you feel. But approval-seeking online is unfulfilling, it just makes you crave for more. The best way to counter this appetite for surface-level acceptance is taking a long break from social media, or using it sparingly.
Listening to a partner’s point of view strengthens the bond of a relationship and builds on it. Validation, however, does not mean a partner must agree with whatever is being communicated and shared, it just means that she is hearing the person out. Validating a partner confirms the importance of the relationship.