One of the most important roles we can play in supporting a person going through emotional pain, is to offer validation of their experience & feelings.
The good thing about practicing validation, is, if you learn this skill, it is all you need to help someone feel heard, supported, connected & loved.
You don’t have to know the answers.
Lay the foundations.
Let the person know that they can talk to you honestly and openly without any fear of judgement.
Let them know that you are not going to change the way you think of feel about them based on anything they say.
Validation means offering a simple & kind acknowledgement of what the person has told you.
We can support and validate a person without the need to fix or solve anything. Without needing to have lots of fancy therapy words, metaphors or techniques.
You can support and validate without fully understanding - statements starting with ‘I can see that you are struggling with….”, “I can hear that you are having a tough time with….”, or “I can tell how painful this is for you”. These are all validating observations. They are things you have observed, or reflecting back what they have told you. Even if you don’t get the observation quite right, your validating statements are an opener for clarification, they might say “I don’t feel in pain, I feel numb” or “its tough beyond anything I have ever experienced before”.
The pain and distress they are feeling is very real for them.
The most comforting thing you can do is to help the person feel less alone in their experience. That is what validation does.
Validate their experience without a critique, the need for a ‘fix it’ solution or judgement.
A simple, heartfelt acknowledgement of a person’s difficulties will help them to feel supported and understood.
Remember, for many people, opening up and sharing their thoughts and feelings is not easy, it is a process. They may not want or feel able to talk at first, but by being consistently there for them, they may gradually be able to feel safe enough to share their experience.
Being consistently there for a person who is struggling (even if the emotion you are hearing is one you have heard before), keeps a person feeling connected and not alone. It stops them feeling rejected, wrong or a burden because of the way they feel. You don’t need to like or agree with the emotion to validate what they are experiencing.
Another thing about validation, is that you don’t have to fully understand, to help the person to feel validated, loved & cared for.
The overall aim is to help them to feel loved, understood and to reduce a feeling of shame about what they are struggling with.
I hope this gives you confidence to reach out. To go beyond the first rejection of ‘are you ok, do you want to talk’ , to know that at first they may say no, or ‘I’m fine’ - consistently and gently offering opportunities to hear and validate a person’s experiences may just be one of the most important stages of someones journey towards healing.
Written by Lisa Jonnston,
Online CBT Therapist
Director of My Therapist Online
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