Written by Anita Manley
Within the past year, I attended a Family Support Group at The Royal in Ottawa that covered the topic of validation. Although this communication skill was not new to me, the session reminded me to use validation as an effective communication skill more often when communicating with my loved ones and peers.
Validation (as defined by dictionary.com) is: recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?… but how often did I want to offer advice on an issue instead; or not even meaning to – be judgmental? Or even worse, minimize the person’s feelings by beginning a sentence with “At least”. More often than I’d care to admit!
After sitting in on this seminar, I’d try to catch myself every time I was communicating with my loved ones and peers. Instead, I really listened to their concerns, without judgment or offering advice. I would say, “Wow, you seem really frustrated, stressed and angry”. Connecting with their emotions. Everyone needs to know that their feelings are normal and reasonable in the situation.
By validating people’s feelings, I found that they opened up to me more. They would want to engage further. In the case of my daughter, Julia (24), she would carve out more time in her very busy schedule to spend time with me. If your goal is to develop a closer relationship with people, then validation is key.
In this seminar, it was also emphasized that you do not have to agree with someone’s opinions or choices to acknowledge their emotions are valid. For example, a person does not have to agree or buy into the delusions someone is having in order to validate their feelings.
In hindsight, I really wish that people in my life had practised validation when I was in the depths of psychosis. Instead of connecting with the emotions I may have been feeling, they argued with me: “What you are saying is not true/real. You cannot be trusted. You are paranoid.” If instead they had said “Wow, you must feel stressed (vulnerable, spied-on, or exposed)” upon revealing to them that I believed there were cameras in my home and car; perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so alienated from everyone in my life. After all, how would you feel if you truly believed there were cameras in your home watching and listening to everything 24/7?
I know that by using validation as a communication skill, all of my relationships are much stronger, especially with my daughter, Julia. Since January, we have been meeting one day a week for lunch and we both enjoy connecting regularly.
It’s not perfect by any means, but the effort has paid off. Sometimes I slip into offering advice, but I always try to deliver the messages: I believe in you! and – You Matter! – through validation.