Understanding Validation

One of the options we have in any problem situation is acceptance. Validation is one way that we communicate acceptance of ourselves and others. Validation doesn't mean agreeing or approving. Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person's thoughts,feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable. This is where you can learn how to effectively validate your loved ones feelings and behavior, you can ask questions, share stories or help others understand how to do this every day.

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  • Learning how to use validation effectively takes practice. Knowing about the six levels of validation as identified by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. was helpful to me.

    The first Level is Being Present. There are so many ways to be present. Holding someone's hand when they are having a painful medical treatment, listening with your whole mind and doing nothing but listening. Multi-tasking while you listen is not being present. Being present means giving all your attention to the person you are validating.

    Often one of the reasons other people are uncomfortable with intense emotion is that they don't know what to say. Just being present, paying complete attention to the person in a nonjudgmental way, is often the answer. 

    The second level of validation is Accurate Reflection. Accurate reflection means you summarize what you have heard from someone else or summarize your own feelings. Sometimes this type of validation helps someone sort through their thoughts and separate thoughts from emotions. "So basically I'm feeling pretty angry and hurt," would be a self-reflection. "Sounds like you're disappointed in yourself because you didn't call him back," could be accurate reflection by someone else.

    Level Three is guessing what another person might be feeling or thinking. Some may not be clear about what they are feeling because they weren't allowed to experience their feelings or learned to be afraid of their feelings. When someone is describing a situation, notice their emotional state. Then either name the emotions you hear or guess at what the person might be feeling.

    "I'm guessing you must have felt pretty hurt by her comment" is Level Three validation. Remember that you may guess wrong and the person could correct you. It's her emotion and she is the only one who knows how she feels. Accepting her correction is validating.

    Level Four is Understanding the Person's Behavior in Terms of their History and Biology. Your experiences and biology influence your emotional reactions. If your best friend was bitten by a dog a few years ago, she is not likely to enjoy playing with your German Shepherd. Validation at this level would be saying, "Given what happened to you, I completely understand your not wanting to be around my dog."

    Level Five is normalizing or recognizing emotional reactions that anyone would have. Understanding that your emotions are normal is helpful for everyone. For the emotionally sensitive person, knowing that anyone would be upset in a specific situation is validating. For example, "Of course you're anxious. Speaking before an audience the first time is scary for anyone."

    Level Six is Genuineness. Genuiness is when you understand the emotion someone is feeling on a very deep level. Maybe you have had a similar experience.

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