Emotionally validating someone means demonstrating acceptance and understanding for their beliefs, values, emotions and actions without necessarily agreeing with them. This is a vital component of the human condition, as it allows individuals to feel heard, respected and understood. Most importantly, it enables us to reflect upon our everyday feelings and behaviours in a healthy way and build deeper and more satisfying relationships with others around us.
By being present and visibly engaged, we are conveying to the other person through behavioural cues that they have our full, undivided attention for what they are going to share with us. This can be a crucial starting point, as if our verbal validation is not somewhat mirrored through the meta-messages of our body language, the full impact of the message may be lost (Boyle Counseling and Consultation, 2019). The other person may think that we are dismissing their opinions and views by thoughtlessly responding in a way that appeases them.
Listening carefully and without judgement
Listening carefully and without jumping to conclusions can allow us to absorb the details of the other person’s emotional experiences and thought processes, which can be fundamental to how we provide emotional validation. Lyndon Jones (1976) highlights how effective listening is an active process where unnecessary noise or distractions should be minimised so that the speaker can concentrate on what they are expressing and the listener can fully digest what is being said, as well as notice non-verbal communication cues.
Acknowledging the emotion
By using restatement or paraphrasing, we can express our level of understanding for the facts or series of events in the other person’s story to which they can correct us or provide additional details if we misheard (Jones, 1976). This allows us to identify and recognise the emotions that they felt in their narrative by valuing their personal experience in an open-minded way. For example, telling the other person, “I understand that you are upset” or “I can see how confusing that is” acknowledges the authenticity of their emotions.
Understanding the source of the emotion
Recognising the source of what is causing them to feel the emotion can enable effective problem solving about the root cause and help validate what they have gone through. For instance, asking them, “Do you think you would still be as upset if they had apologised immediately for being late?” can illuminate whether their emotion stems more heavily from the act itself, the lack of remorse afterwards or both. It also allows us to break through any personal biases that the other person may have without invalidating their entire experience, such as saying, “I remember you mentioning that your manager was very pleased with how you’re adjusting to your new promoted role. But you still think you’re not performing well. Do you think you might be a little hard on yourself?” (Futures Recovery Healthcare, 2018).
Empathising with their perspective and experience
Although we all have diverse backgrounds, experiences, ideologies and outlooks on life, it is important to empathise with how the other person’s situation has triggered the emotion they are experiencing even if we do not fully understand it or agree. For instance, we might feel that the other person stressing about what shoes they should wear to an event to be utterly trivial compared to bigger atrocities happening in the world. However, by reflecting upon how important the event may be to them or what is making them insecure, we can engage in a deeper conversation with the other person and provide emotional validation, feedback and support without nullifying their concerns (Michael S. Sorensen, 2017).
Supporting them through the emotion
This step is not synonymous with ‘fixing’ the other person’s emotions but rather helping them understand any mixed feelings or confusions that they have about their own internal experiences (Benson, 2017). This could include rumination about a particular statement that caused a great amount of distress, a feeling that they struggle to label or internal guilt for admitting that they feel a certain way. Brené Brown illustrates that ‘rarely can a response make something better’ but rather it is the power of connection that makes a difference, even if it is through a simple line such as, “I don’t even know what to say. I’m just so glad you told me” (YouTube, 2013).
Emotional encouragement and positive reminders
Emotional encouragement in validation does not have to be the endorsement or enabling of harmful behaviours. Instead, it is a positive reminder of hope and courage. Moreover, having a positive outlook does not mean encouraging the rejection of all negative emotions and to suppress such feelings with compensatory forced optimism (Goldberg, 2019). Rather, it could be suggesting reasonable goals, coping strategies and gently reminding them that they are worthy to be heard. By ending it on a positive note, the other person can feel validated enough to persevere through the negative emotions that they feel, amend any wrongs that they may have been too afraid to face and continue to participate in a healthy communication channel where they can be vulnerable without fearing shame.
Therefore, these 7 steps to emotional validation can help us better communicate with others and sustain fulfilling relationships and connections that are founded on understanding, empathy and growth. It perpetuates a positive and healthy reflection of one’s internal experiences and emotions without having it hastily dismissed or judged.
As Brené Brown (2013) once said:
‘Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.’
Author: Holly Zhu
Holly is currently a fifth-year student at Macquarie University, studying for a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Psychology (Honours). She has a great interest in mental health awareness, social and personality psychology and community welfare. Holly is also passionate about understanding how different people cope with and adapt to challenges in distinct ways. In her spare time, she enjoys dabbling in underwater photography, watching documentaries, relaxing with some yoga and going on bushwalks.