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Blog: Blog2

Helping a Loved One - Validation.

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Validating how a person feels and that their struggle is difficult for them is a core part of therapy. I have found it is helpful with all different presentations, from anxiety to depression and beyond. Validation is a helpful strategy in slowly reducing symptoms in loved ones as we give them a safe space to explore and understand what is happening and why it is so difficult, which builds their awareness around their situation as well as give them some relief from how they are feeling.

When someone tells us about something that is bothering them, the usual reaction is to try to fix it or help them feel better (eg. But look at all the good things in your life!). This comes from a good and caring place, but what we often find is that someone in this state is going to also hear that their problems aren't important or that realistic, which can have the opposite effect to what we want and the person may come and talk to you less.

Through validation we can try to give our loved ones a safe place to explore their thoughts and feelings without feeling judged. Validation is any kind of communication that tells the other person that we understand or can sympathise with what they are going through and that it is ok to feel the way they feel. Now this goes against everything our brain wants us to do in these situations but I find with practice, it becomes easier and feels more natural for us, while often having some very powerful effects for the person we are validating.

Additionally, be kind to yourself while learning this skill. Just like learning to ride a bike, getting upset with ourselves for getting it wrong is less helpful in learning how to do it better. Approach with gentle curiosity and understanding (eg. Well, I am still new to this, and I would tell another person trying to learn a skill and finding it difficult not to be so hard on themselves! So what I would like that person to do for themselves while learning is what I will do for myself while I am learning – to cheer myself on when I get stuff right and to pick myself up when things don’t go the way I want them to and learn what works and what doesn’t).

So how do we validate?

To validate we need to listen to the person and try to summarise what has been happening for them in our own words. We want to notice their underlying feelings and state these explicitly. This will show that you are listening to them properly and you understand how they are feeling. Example:

Bid: "I don't know what is going on and I feel really bad"

Response: "I can hear that stuff is hard for you and you are confused"

What often happens when validating is that the person then feels safe to talk about other things that might be on their mind, or how much the issues have been weighing on them. This often looks like they are becoming more upset, and they are, this stuff is very tough to deal with and share with another person. But what tends to happen is that after they are upset they feel better - often as they have had the space to understand what is going on for them and why things are so difficult. Once they start feeling better, you can then jump in with some positives if you feel comfortable.

- Estelle Perry, Psychologist

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