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Emotional Validation

Posted by admin 9:43 am, 25 March 2015

Over the years that I work as a clinical psychologist the importance of emotional validation becomes more and more clear to me. Validation is an essential component of psychological practice, but is also the cornerstone of most healthy relationships, and invalidation causes many of the relationship difficulties that I see in my practice at Mindright. Validation is a core component of DBT as well as Person-Centered Therapy.


Emotion validation is defined as expressing understanding of the emotions that a person is experiencing. This means expressing acceptance and understanding of a persons emotions, beliefs or behaviours, without necessarily needing to agree with the person. It’s about taking a non-judgemental approach to understanding where someone is coming from and why a person feels as they do, given their personal experiences. Emotional validation is essential when trying to resolve conflict among family members, friends and all other relationships. Once a person feels heard and understood, their emotions calm down and they can stop fighting to get their point across, which leaves room for conflict resolution and understanding of alternate perspectives.


Invalidating home environments can lead to difficulties identifying and regulating emotions, which can lead to psychological difficulties. The creator of DBT, Marsha Linehan, argues that invalidating environments are one of the key factors in the development of borderline personality disorder, and can lead to self-harm in adolescents and adults when they are experiencing very strong emotions. It could be argued that the relationship where validation is most important is that of a parent and child, as this is the relationship where the child learns about their own emotional experience, and patterns in relationships with parents are often re-created with others.


Self-validation is also very important and involves the ability to identify and accept one’s own emotions. Often we might struggle with our emotions and tell ourselves that we should not feel as we do. Russ Harris, one of the creators of the ACT therapeutic approach, suggests that doing this creates suffering and avoidance and can lead to depression and anxiety.


So how does one validate another person’s emotions? The first step is listening and understanding what they are feeling. Try to identify the emotion that they are feeling and, even if you disagree with their perspective or actions, try to express understanding of how they feel and of their perspective. Ask yourself, if I was in their situation, or was their age, or had experienced what they have in life, can I imagine feeling like they do now? Then, tell them this. Sometimes parents worry that if they express understanding about why their teenager broke the rules that they will be more likely to do so again, but this is rarely the case. It’s still fine to put in consequences for the behavior, or express that you disagree after you validate, but by validating the person you will give them the message that you support them and can understand their perspectives, creating a respectful and healthy relationship.