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Emotional Validation


What Validation Is

Basic Steps to Validation

A Message From a Social Worker on Validation and Invalidation

An Example of Validating a Child's Feelings- "I want Mama!", by Josh Freedman

A Validating Father

Another Example of Validating a Child's Feelings, "Zebra", by John Gottman


One of the most important emotional skills is the skill of validation. It is a skill because it can be learned. Whether it is or ever will be part of the academic or corporate measures of emotional intelligence, is uncertain at this point. But if you want to have better relationships with people, the skill of emotional validation is extremely useful.

The relationship will be better because with more validation you will have less debating, fewer conflicts, and less disagreement. You will also find that validation opens people up and helps them feel free to communicate with you. In fact, if there is a communication breakdown, if there is a wall between you and someone else, it probably has been built with the bricks of invalidation. Validation is the means of chipping away at the wall and opening the free flow of communication.

What Validation Is

To validate someone's feelings is first to accept their feelings. Next, it is to understand them, and finally it is to nurture them.

To validate is to acknowledge and accept one's unique identity and individuality. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignore, or judge their feelings, and hence, their individual identity.

When we validate someone, we allow them to safely share their feelings and thoughts. We are reassuring them that it is okay to have the feelings they have. We are demonstrating that we will still accept them after they have shared their feelings. We let them know that we respect their perception of things at that moment. We help them feel heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted.

Sometimes validation entails listening, sometimes it is a nod or a sign of agreement or understanding, sometimes it can be a hug or a gentle touch. Sometimes it means being patient when the other person is not ready to talk.

Painful feelings that are expressed, acknowledged and validated by a trusted listener will diminish.
Painful feelings that are ignored will gain strength. (1)

Basic Steps to Validation

Acknowledging the other person's feelings
Identifying the feelings
Offering to listen (see
EQ-Based Listening)
Helping them label the feelings
Being there for them; remaining present physically and emotionally
Feeling patient
Feeling accepting and non-judgmental

Here are some simple ways to validate someone when they talking to you and they are feeling upset, hurt, sad etc.

I hear you.
That hurts
That's not good
That's no fun

Wow, that's a lot to deal with
I would feel the same way.
(I would be sad/hurt/angry/jealus, etc. too)

That is sad.
That sounds discouraging.
That sounds like it would really hurt
That must really hurt.

I know just what you mean.
I would feel the same way.
I can understand how you feel.
It sounds like you are really feeling ____.
It sounds like _____ is really important to you.

Most of us truly want to help other people, but often we don't know how, or we try too hard and we start giving advice, as our parents did to us. But I have found that usually if I just validate someone, they are able to work out their own emotional problems even faster than if I were to give them my advice. This I believe is a sign of not only high EQ but of wisdom. Though I read about validation and "active listening" I didn't learn the importance of it. I learned it from life. And from watching what works and what doesn't work. If you want to help someone, try some of these. I have found they have amazing power.

For some people all you need to do is use these short, validating comments and they will continue to talk.

For others, you might encourage them to keep talking with short questions such as:

How's that?
You did?
She did?

If you find yourself in a position of needing to lead the conversation you might try:

I can see that you are really upset.
You look pretty sad.
You seem a little worried, troubled, scared, etc.
Would you like to talk about it?
That really bothered you, didn't it?
How did you feel when ______?

Also, to help someone release their feelings try:

What bothers you the most about it?
How strongly are you feeling that (on a scale of 0-10)?
How come? How so? How's that?
So you really felt ______? Is that close?
So what bothered you was that _____?
What else bothered you______?
How else did you feel______?
What would help you feel better?

Often, the fewer words from you, the better, especially when someone needs to talk and they are both willing and able. I have found, as I am sure you have, that it takes more to get some people talking than others. But once most people start, and feel safe and validated, they will continue.

Validation allows a person to release their feelings in a healthy, safe and supportive way. It also helps us get to know them better. Thus it builds bonds of caring, support, acceptance, understanding and trust. When a person is feeling down, these bonds are sometimes all that another person needs to begin to feel better and solve their own problems.

On the other hand, when they are feeling excited and enthusiastic, this validation encourages them and helps keep their spirits high.

For example when someone is excited, proud etc. You might say:

Cool. Neat. Wow. Excellent. etc.
That must have been fun/exciting.
I can see why you are proud.

By validating someone we demonstrate that we care and that their feelings matter to us-- in other words, that they matter to us. By "mirroring" someone's feelings, we show them that we are in tune with them. We feel connected with them and they feel connected with us.

A message from a social worker on validation and invalidation


I LOVE your site! You've put a lot of work into this and I found your site helpful.

I work with as a Social Worker at a 'Safehouse' for abused/neglected children. I found your site by typing "validating feelings" at Yahoo's search engine. Your site was third in the search list.

Often I notice other social workers invalidating a child's feelings. We social workers want so badly for the kids to be happy that we often unintentionally invalidate the kids feelings.

Just the other day we took a small boy to the doctor's office and I asked him if he was a little bit scared. It was obvious by his face that he was scared and I wanted to share, understand, and validate his feeling. But after I asked if he were a little bit scared and before he had a chance to answere the other social worker interupted us and in a scolding tone of voice told him there was nothing to be afraid of! I felt very sad for the boy but I wasn't sure how to handle the situation. I need to get along with my coworkers too... but these kids desparetely need to be heard.

I read everything I could find on your site about validating feelings...
it was a huge help... THANKS!


An Example of Validating a Child's Feelings - "I want Mama!"

When someone is experiencing a strong feeling, sometimes we
"try to help" by telling her or him "it's not so bad."  This attempt
to minimize the negative experience -- to save someone from
the struggle, actually undermines the effort to help.

Sometimes when Max wakes up from his naps, he's sad --
especially when his mama isn't home.  Since Patty often uses
naptime for her work, I've struggled to keep wakeup time from
being a descent into wailing.  Yesterday when he woke up, I
practiced recognizing his feelings without fixing or correcting.

"I want Mama," sulked Max, somehow accusing me for being the
wrong parent.

My initial impulse was to react with hurt and say, "Well she's not
here and I am, so take or leave it, bub."  I resisted, and instead
said lovingly, "You really want Mama, don't you?"

"Yes," replied a slightly-less-vexed Max.

I forgot my plan for a moment, and shifted to "reality" saying,
"I'm sorry she's not here, Maxie, but I'll snuggle with you."  I
was thinking, "She's going to be here in ten minutes, it's not that
bad!"  I suspect he heard my effort to minimize his feelings:

"GO Away Daddy.  I want MAMA," re-escalated Max.

Again, part of me felt rejected and wanted to go away.  Instead, I
chose to speak to the want that Max was expressing.  I sat down on
his bed and said, "I really miss her too.  It's sad when she's not

"Yah," admitted Max, reaching out closer to me.

"She's such a good snuggler, and so warm and just right.  I love her
so much too -- sometimes I really miss her."

"Yah," affirmed Max, now snuggling close to me.

"I wish we could both snuggle with her right now.  She could hold
you close, and we could all squeeze into your little bed.  And we'd
just have a lovely snuggle."

Suddenly, Max changed gears and spoke in his "you-silly-Daddy
voice" -- "But my bed isn't big enough."

When I gave into the impulse to "solve" the situation by telling
Max the facts,  I was forgetting (again) that facts are not relevant
to the emotional brain.  When I say, "You know Mama's going to be
home soon, right?" I'm also saying, "You should not feel sad."
While my impulse may be kind, it's actually dismissive.

Max wanted his mama, facts wouldn't change that. When I stopped
"fixing it" and participated in his world, I let him feel that I
truly understood his feelings.  In the end, he knew I understood,
and that let him move on.

It's fairly easy to see this in child of two-and-a-half -- but
the premise is true for people of all ages.  Feelings are real,
even when the causes don't make sense to another person.  And
when people are sad, understanding is infinitely more precious
that facts.

By Josh Freedman, http://www.6seconds.org

A Validating Father
When I expressed an awkward feeling to my father, he would get kind of an internal look and say "Oh!" like he suddenly felt the same thing or remembered feeling a similar feeling. Then he would look me in the eye and say something like "That must have been hard!"  He would smile out of love and I would feel so much relief that I wasn't crazy for feeling what ever I felt.

Whatever I had felt would just unravel and pass away.  Then he might tell me a story about someone else he knew, maybe his dad or my mom, who had had a hard time with something.

Because he had taken a moment to recognize my feelings before he forced some lecture on me, I was able to open up and learn so much from whatever story he was telling me.  I don't know how he learned to do this process, but it really is amazing.




1. vfvalidation.org/whatis.html - link was broken as of Feb 2011